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Having a swinging time way out west; Examiner journalist STEVE CATCHPOOL packed his suitcase, threw his golf clubs in the boot of the car and headed for Holyhead for yet another Irish golfing adventure - this time in captivating coastal Co Clare.

Byline: STEVE CATCHPOOL

THE weather forecast for our weekend golfing, culture break in the far west of Ireland could hardly have been gloomier.

Weeks of unseasonable heavy rain to be followed by a weekend in prospect of cloud, low temperatures and more incessant downpours? There was thick fog as I left home on the Thursday morning in 'flaming June'...

My route to the ferryport at Holyhead, off Anglesey, took me along the country lanes to Flouch and from there via the Woodhead Pass to Hollingworth and up Mottram Moor onto the M67. There was a marked improvement in the weather on the other side of the Pennines. Then the sun came out and temperatures rose as I followed the North Wales coast road and the views out across the blue waters of the Menai Straits over to the Isle of Anglesey were stunning. There was a ray hope, perhaps the met office had got it wrong again? The sun was still shining as I crossed Thomas Telford's impressive suspension bridge and drove across the Anglesey on the sweeping, gently undulating dual carriageway, likened by a friend of mine to a Scalextric track. It was still warm and pleasant as I parked up at the Irish Ferries terminal at Holyhead.

We travelled over to Ireland on Irish Ferries' luxury ferry cruiser Ulysses, one of the world's largest and most comfortable passenger ferries, savouring a meal on board and a refreshing glass of Guinness as we moved smoothly across the Irish Sea.

An hour out and the clouds were gathering, although the sea was running almost flat calm. Then the rains returned. Was this to be our destiny? A wet, wet, wet weekend? Golfing great Jack Nicklaus on a visit to the jewel of a course he designed and helped create at Mount Juliet, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, was asked if he had any tips for playing golf in the rain. "You don't. Next question," he replied.

I thought of Jack as we sailed into Dublin port, but as it happened I need not have worried.

The golfing gods were to be with us. Our Irish hosts never fail to introduce our group of itinerant swingers to undiscovered gems of golf courses. This year the itinerary took us to two of Co Clare's recently established tracks: the first a parkland course set in the scenic splendour of Dromoland Castle, the second a classic links challenge at Doonbeg.

Dromoland Castle THE castle is built entirely of dark blue limestone. The present building was completed in 1835, but the first building constructed there seems to have been a 15th or early 16th century tower house. The ornamental grounds and woods of the estate extend over more than 1,500 acres.

From some of the eminences of the vast estate there are views of the rivers Shannon and Fergus, which, at this part of the country, resembles a large inland lake with an island, making Dromoland one of the most beautiful and desirable residences in Ireland.

The mansion is in 'baronial' or 'gothic revival' style. It has four linked irregular castellated turrets and a gothic porch to the north front displays the O'Brien arms.

Dromoland has recently been preserved. It was bought by American Bernard McDonough, who had it converted into a top-grade five star hotel with a Michelin star restaurant. United States President George W Bush spent the night of Friday, June 26, 2004, at Dromoland Castle to attend the EU-US Summit held there. President Bush was guarded by approximately 7,000 police, military and private security forces during his 16-hour visit. We were there just a few hours to play the new championship golf course established in the grounds, and we caused much less of a fuss than George W. The historical significance of this magnificent domain did not escape us. The views are a delight and, despite the recent downpours, the well-drained fairways and greens had stood up well to the deluge - and the threatened rains kept away. This hugely impressive course was presented in pristine order and although I did not tame it, I surely enjoyed my time there.

DOONBEG ON the Saturday we drove west across to Doonbeg to take on a course created by golfing master Greg Norman. This is a classic links, featuring stunning views of the Atlantic from 16 holes, and gives the impression it has been there for ever. Doonbeg Golf Club, opened in 2002, and was immediately designated as Golf Digest's "Best New International Course." Doonbeg Lodge enjoys a breathtaking location, matched by distinctive services and facilities including fine dining and a luxury spa.

Two-time British Open champion Greg Norman is the course architect and his layout follows a route designed by nature - 14 of Doonbeg's greens and 12 of its fairways required no changes but a simple mowing of the grass. The fairways and greens consist of native grasses, including fine fescues, bentgrass, and ryegrass, some rolled on like a carpet.

The par-72 layout features a single loop of nine holes out and nine back, playing 6,885 yards from the back tees. Most holes feature five or more tee locations.

This offers spectacular links golf of the highest order. The weather was again on our side, but the wind was our master. Doonbeg Golf Club was last year once again named in the top 100 courses in the world by Golf Magazine. It is that good.

THE HERITAGE WE were fortunate enough to be invited to play The Heritage, a 72 par Championship golf course designed by the late, great Seve Ballesteros and Jeff Howes, back in 2004, when it had yet still to be opened. We played the course in the May and the great man Seve was coming over in the July to officially launch it.

Back then there were staked trees and 'preferred lies' to protect the newly-laid fairways, but it was a fine golfing experience and we were greeted with the warmest of Irish welcomes in a palatial, state-of-the-art clubhouse.

Eight years on we returned to find the course unrecognisable. The trees had matured astonishingly quickly, filling in the open expanses and putting emphasis of the gently rolling terrain. The Heritage is set in the beautiful countryside of Co Laois, just one hour from Dublin, with the Slieve Bloom Mountains as a backdrop. Its layout provides the most enjoyable experience for golfers of all standards. Five lakes and a stream meander through the course and bring water into play on 10 of its holes. There are 98 intricately shaped bunkers and 7,000 trees adorn the landscape, which is very gently undulating and so does not involve any climbing - and a round of golf in this delightfully serene setting can be enjoyed for as little as EUR25 - pounds 23.

TRAVEL FACTS * Steve's group's golfing break in Ireland was courtesy of Tourism Ireland and Irish Ferries, which operates from Holyhead to Dublin with the luxury ferry cruiser Ulysses and the high speed Jonathan Swift and from Pembroke to Rosslare with the Isle of Inishmore. For details and low price offers on holidays and crossings ring 08705-171717 or go on line at www.irishferries.com * Go to the www.discoverireland.com website to find a host of information including great golf offers. The courses visited were: www.dromoland.iewww.doonbeggolfclub.comwww.theheritage.com

CAPTION(S):

* TOP 1 0 0 : Doonbeg Golf Club's classic links by the Atlantic Ocean * SEVE'S MASTERPIECE: The Heritage Golf Club at Killinard
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Jul 7, 2012
Words:1244
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