I just dress up what the Good Lord provides.”– Legendary Irish course designer Eddie Hackett
Eddie Hackett’s words best sums up Ireland as a whole. The beauty is simple yet breathtaking. Largely due to the Forty Shades of Green as Ireland is it is commonly referred. The forty shades of green reference was further popularized by the well-known 1961 Johnny Cash song by the same title that he wrote while visiting Ireland. This small geographical region is currently experiencing a rebirth and once again establishing its place as a global golf mecca.
The Land of Major Champions did not disappoint. The Irish Open held at the Royal Portrush Golf Club, was a huge success on all accounts. It was the first time the Irish Open had been played in Northern Ireland since 1953 and this time they saw record breaking crowds of 130,785 for the week. The player turnout was spectacular and seemed to mirror the forty shades of green concept with almost forty types of Irish. Northern Ireland was represented by Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, the Republic of Ireland most notably represented by Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley as well as English, Welsh and Scottish players and Irish American Keegan Bradley. Fellow Celt and Welsh golfer Jamie Donaldson won the event in spectacular fashion. The Irish Open had the energy and buzz of a major. Given they had the ultimate foursome of Irish players in the field (Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy all major winners) the atmosphere felt more like a mix between a European football (soccer) match and a Justin Bieber concert than a golf tournament.
In typical Two Good Rounds style the trip would not be complete without a visit to the world famous home of Irish whiskey, Bushmills Distillery. Tours are available and we were fortunate enough to have a private tour of the distillery which concluded with a tasting in the 1608 bar. Irish whiskey differentiates itself from Scotch malt whisky with the absence of a smoky taste. In Scotland the malted barley acquires a peat smoke character as it is being dried giving it a smoky flavor. In Bushmills the smoke is not introduced resulting in an absence of smoky taste and the more subtle malt honeyed flavors are more pronounced. Another difference is that in Scotland most whiskies are generally distilled only two times, whereas in Bushmills the whiskey is distilled a third time thus achieving a greater smoothness.
The Bushmills Inn Hotel is right out of a novel. The beautifully restored hotel, restaurant and bar transports you back in time. The original coach house and stables are thought to date back to 1608, the same year that the Bushmills distillery was granted the first license to distil whiskey. The hotel’s Gas Bar is rich in history and is still lit by gas lights. Most nights you can enjoy your drink to live traditional Irish music.
Downtown Belfast is vibrant combining old with new. The dining options in Belfast were outstanding and notable places included Browns, which serves a prefix 6 course dinner with wine pairing that was so spectacular even the French would give a nod of approval. Other hot spots include Dean’s restaurant and McHughs Bar on Queens Square. McHughs is a popular traditional Irish bar that dates back to 1711 and is the oldest surviving building in Belfast.
The golf did not disappoint. Ballyliffen Golf Club and Donegal Golf Club on the North West coast of Ireland was everything I dreamed Irish golf would be and more. Sometimes more rain than I dreamed but none the less spectacular. The views from the fairways and greens truly make you want to cry they are so stunning. Perhaps an Irish caddie’s comment after a shot into tall rough best described the notable difference between golf in Ireland and golf in the USA. “If the ball was wrapped in bacon, Lassie couldn’t find it.”