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Golf, Beer, and Wining (or Whining) in Ireland

Iíve spent the past week in Ireland, golfing with some buddies of mine from Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, and New York.  The trip was arranged by Wino Bill, a member of my club.  Four years ago, Bill organized a similar trip to Ireland and many of the same people participated.  I was not a member of that trip four years ago.  In fact, I would not have been a member of this trip except that it was originally scheduled for September 12, 2001 and had to be rescheduled for May of 2002.  Two of the original group couldnít make the new date and Bill called me (actually, he called my wife, Sharon, and she suggested that I go).  (Editor's note:  Sharon gets my nod for Wife-of-the-Year)

Bill did a great job of communicating with the group.  We knew in advance which golf courses we were playing, where we were staying on which days, the telephone numbers of the hotels, etc.  We knew that we should bring plenty of golf balls because theyíre expensive in Ireland (I donít know why unless thereís a special tax on them).  By the time we left, we even had our pairings sheets for our golf foursomes.  Billís contact in Ireland, Patrick Prendergast, was the man who made all of our arrangements.  Patrick secured the tee times at all of our golf courses, coordinated the trip outline with dates that local hotels were available, and drove our bus, delivering us to all of our destinations on time.  There are other golf tours of Ireland available, but if youíre looking for a special trip with personalized attention, contact Patrick at patp@eircom.net or 353-64-34988.

Most flights from the United States land either in Shannon or Dublin.  Because we had some members of our group who arranged business in Europe, Bill decided to begin the trip in Dublin.  The beautiful countryside of Ireland stays beautiful in part because there arenít many interstate quality roads.  Driving to many of our golf courses was slow compared to traveling at home or on the Autobahn.  Nonetheless, it was interesting to see the countryside and the many small towns along the way. Western Ireland isnít as populated as the Eastern portion of the country and it appears much more rural.  Western Ireland is (as I understand it) the area of the country where many residents in the late 1800ís left in droves for the United States (potato famine, jobs, etc.).

Bill decided to minimize the number of times we had to change hotels (three hotels total in 10 days) by driving to several courses from a hub in a certain geographical area.  While this meant that we cut down on our ďtourist timeĒ because we were driving longer distances, it also meant that we didnít have to pack our clothes every morning because we were headed to a new hotel that night.  Patrick made sure that we had a bus with storage capable of storing our golf clubs at night so we didnít have to bring them in our rooms.  All of our hotels were full service with restaurants in case we wanted to have dinner there (we didnít).

We didnít make any dinner reservations in advance, mainly for the reason that we werenít sure what the group would want to do each night.  Generally, Patrick knew the names of excellent restaurants where we could dine and if he didnít, the concierge at the hotel did.  From a wine perspective, the more rural the area, the less variety we saw on the restaurantís wine list (a fact not unlike the U.S.).  Many of the less expensive wines in Ireland come from South Africa and Australia.  There were more French and Spanish selections on the better wine lists.  American wines were few and far between in the rural areas (I saw a Gallo selection and a Sutter Home white zinfandel at one location).  One location surprised me by having Opus One 1992 (for £385 which is approximately $550).  Most of our group enjoyed red wines and we usually ordered one selection for the entire group.  Our selections were mainly from Australia and Spain, although we did get a French Cote du Rhone one night.  We didnít have a wine steward at any of the restaurants we visited although I didnít miss not having one, either.  We found that you can readily obtain Cuban cigars anywhere in Ireland.

Ireland is a big beer country.  I was told that thereís a pub in Ireland for every 290 citizens (there are 4 million citizens).  Guinness is the big local brewery and has longevity having been founded in 1759.  Most of the bartenders can draw a perfect draft of Guinness and make a shamrock in the head.  Many in our group preferred Harp and Smithwickís to Guinness.

Our trip crossed the borders between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  I was told that four years ago, there were military checkpoints between the two countries.   They have been taken down as a result of the ceasefire between the warring factions. Royal Portrush and Royal County Down are located in Northern Ireland.  And, just from the names of those two courses, you should be able to tell that Northern Ireland is the Ireland that is still affiliated with the U.K.  We were advised to keep our political and religious opinions to ourselves, and we did.

The golf courses are harder in Ireland than the U.S. (at least the ones we played are).  The wind never dies down (itís not as bad some times).  We encountered rain on most of the days we played (although I saw in the paper that May has been twice as wet this year as it normally is).  With the wind, extremely deep rough, and narrow fairways, you have to play the game of golf with more thought than "grip it and rip it."  Many of the courses we played had caddies available and their services were particularly valuable to first time players to that course.  Some of the courses we played, the caddies were also members of the course.  Membership in golf clubs doesnít cost the many thousands that U.S. clubs require as initiation.  Annual membership rarely runs in the thousands either.  Golf is more decidedly democratic here than at home.  That said, I am sure that many in the larger cities of Dublin and Belfast never play golf.

Itís a five and a half to six hour flight to Ireland from most East Coast U.S. cities.  The airfares are reasonable if you book your flight far enough in advance (my trip was $600 round trip).  The people are very friendly and polite.  They speak English (although you may not understand them at times).  The only difficulty I had was figuring out which coins were British (the pound is the standard in Northern Ireland) and which were Euros.  If thatís your biggest issue, you know you had a great trip.  Thanks, Bill.  Thanks, Patrick.  Thanks, Sharon, for letting me go.  And thanks, to a great group of guys who can play some golf (and maybe drink some wine and beer).

Wino Wally
May 30, 2002

 

 


 

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