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Emerald Pilgrimage

WATERVILLE, IRELAND | There are several solid circuits around the world for those who like to travel with their sticks, routes that lead golfers on tours of top-flight tracks located in specific areas and allow both on- and off-course adventures to unfold like well-structured novels. St. Andrews, Scotland, to be sure. Pinehurst, N.C., and the Sand Belt outside Melbourne, Australia, too.
Another noteworthy trek takes players on a stirring loop through southwest Ireland, with stops at some of the best links layouts in the world. Like the Old Courses at Lahinch and Ballybunion, and newer tracks at Waterville, Doonbeg and Tralee. It’s a well-worn pilgrim path trod by golfers who regard visits to one of the game’s ancestral homes as religious experiences. For many of them, it is where they taste the historic links of the British Isles for the first time. Yet it is also a favorite destination for veteran voyagers, and a place they return to time and time again.
Southwest Ireland was the first part of the Emerald Isle I visited as a golfer, a dozen years ago, and I fell hard for the rugged links courses that wound through dunes and along estuaries there, and the glorious sense of playing the game in its most traditional form. And I have returned to that region happily on a couple of occasions since then.
I started my latest trip there with a game at Lahinch, an austere seaside links that boasts a brilliant architectural pedigree, having been tweaked through the years by Old Tom Morris, Alister MacKenzie and most recently, Martin Hawtree. It is as scenic as it is strategic, and the course also features two of my favorite golf holes.


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