ONE of the great attractions of golf is that it’s possible to experience the game at all levels both in terms of ability and quality of courses.

And it’s always a joy to find what may be termed a typical club course – whatever that means – can give as much pleasure as a true top-of-the-range multi-million euro development and that was very much the case on a recent trip to Ireland.

The chance to play Darren Clarke’s new Moyvalley course in County Kildare,

the idyllic Castle Barna in County Offaly – truly one of Ireland’s hidden gems – was not to be turned down. Add to that a quirky, claustrophobic municipal course in Corballis, which reduced some of our party to quivering wrecks and made others double up with laughter at their own deficiencies – I was in both groups – made it an unforgettable experience.

Let’s start with the big one. Moyvalley is an hour from Dublin Airport just off the M4 near Enfield and it has a rich and colourful history that stretches back over 400 years.

Not as a golf course, obviously. That’s a recent development as is the spanking new hotel which is the last word in luxury as part of the Champions Club project which involves Clarke, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood and International Sports Management.

The Champions Club is a private members club which means that if you go to a Champions Club anywhere in the world, you will find that same standards of quality on and off the golf course.

Set in over 500 acres, Moyvalley is Clarke’s first foray into golf course design and he’s made a pretty good fist of it. With several lakes and large bunkers, the par-72 course is very challenging from the back tees at 7,370 yards, but it can play as short as 6,180 or 5,658 off the ladies tees.

“Every so often I get asked to get involved with projects,” said Clarke, “but Moyvalley presented a fantastic challenge and it was a labour of love. I worked with European Golf Design and I think we have created a course to be enjoyed by the weekend golfer as well as the tournament professional.

“There is considerable variation between the Championship tees and the front tees. I am especially delighted with the greens and they are among the best putting surfaces in the country.”

He’s not wrong. The course is eminently playable and the greens great and there are some wonderful tee shots and there is truly magnificent finish with water on 16, 17 and 18.

There’s also water on the 3rd, 6th and 8th, but the fairways are fairly generous although that finish will test the nerves.

There is also a sister course, New Forest, designed by Peter McEvoy and the best way to play the course it is to stay at the Moyvalley Hotel or Balyna House as part of a package.

There are a variety of offers and packages, which include family deals and activities, which range from ?130 a person and ?25 for children to ?275 for a golf package and a green fee rate is available by contacting the club.

Castle Barna is very much the more on the traditional golf club lines and immensely popular with visiting societies and casual green fee payers.

The course is on the edge of Daingean town and it has a very attractive stone-built clubhouse, but it is the warmth of the welcome that you will remember the most. It was noisy, friendly and terrific fun in the bar as the party of Scottish golfers who were there at the time can testify!

There’s plenty of entertainment in the golf course as well. It’s not long at 5,580 metres off the forward tees and 5,798 metres off the medal tees (ladies tees 4,716 and 5,580 metres).

The greens were immaculate and the fairways perfect, but avoid the rough and the many mature trees and water and you will score well.

There are some interesting par fours, especially the dogleg 2nd and 4th. The seems to have water everywhere and the 4th is a great risk and reward hole. The 9th is a wonderful little par three with the river on the right and there is a testing finish to this good walking course.

It’s hardly surprising then that the course is very popular with visitors and there are some great deals. For instance, a round of golf with tea and scones on arrival and a steak lunch afterwards costs just ?39 in midweek and ?45 on weekends…and the Guinness is great.

Corballis Golf Links one of Ireland’s most popular pay and play courses. It’s on the same stretch of land as The Island and it’s just 25 minutes from the centre of Dublin.

Bernhard Langer was a frequent visitor when he was working on developing the nearby Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links and Irish golfer Phillip Walton says the course has the most consistent greens in country.

It’s short, tight and will drive you nuts if you insist on hitting driver. But if you like quirky links courses, then you’ll love it. Most will take some time to get used to it.

There is no clubhouse as such, but there are changing facilities, trolley hire and the Waterside Hotel and Dunes Hotel are both nearby for food and drink and at just ?15 midweek and ?18 at weekends it’s extremely good value.

Factfile

There are plenty of first class hotels to stay at in Ireland, but we were fortunate enough to stay overnight at the four star Moyvalley Hotel with is Waterways Restaurant as well as the excellent Bridge House Hotel in Tullamore and the Portmarnock Hotel while a visit to the Abbey Tavern in Howth provided an excellent meal and the best in Irish musical entertainment

I made the trip to Ireland with Irish Ferries, the low fares ferry operator. Irish Ferries modern fleet operates two passenger routes from the UK to Ireland with two ships on the Holyhead/Dublin route making two sailings each per day and one ship sailing from Pembroke to Rosslare twice daily. Prices start from £59 for a one-way journey for car and driver. Tel: 08705 17 17 17; www.irishferries.com

Tourism Ireland website is a great source of further info on holidays in Ireland – www.discoverireland.com or Tel: 0800 039 7000

Castle Barna Golf Club, Daingean, Offaly, Ireland. Telephone +353 57 93 53384

Fax +353 57 93 53077; www.castlebarna.ie and info@castlebarna.ie.

Moyvalley, Balyna Estate, Moyvalley, Co. Kildare. Telephone: +353 (0)46 954 8000. Fax: +353 (0)46 954 8070; www.moyvalley.com and info@moyvalley.com.

Corballis Golf Links, Donabate, County Dublin. Telephone: + 353 1 843 6583; www.golfdublin.com and corballislinks@golfdublin.com.

The Bridge House Hotel, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Ireland. Tel: +353 57 9322000; Fax: +353 57 9325690; www.bridgehouse.com; info@bridgehouse.com

Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, Portmartnock, County Dublin. Tel: +353 1 8460611; Fax: +353 1 846 2442; www.portmarnock.com.

The Abbey Tavern, Howth, County Dublin, +353 1 8322006/8390307; fax 8390284. www.abbeytavern.ie; info@abbeytavern.ie.