Capital golf - swinging Dublin

Dublin can be heaven, they say, which is why tourism chiefs want visitors to grab their clubs and see where four of Ireland’s 17 Ryder Cup players, 11 Walker Cup stars and one British Open champion learnt to play the game.

Ireland is a virtual mecca for the golf enthusiast with over 440 golf clubs from Cushendall in Antrim to Kerry’s Ceann Sibeall. But many overlook the attractions of the capital, where there are literally dozens of great places to indulge your golfing habit.

There are 28 fine clubs in Dublin’s fair city alone with another 31 in the rest of the county and with the capital capturing the vast majority of the millions of tourists who come here every year, golf must rank as one as our most under-used assets.

Dublin Tourism chief executive Frank Magee knows that we must exploit every avenue to keep the visitors coming in numbers and he points to golf as growth industry with huge potential. And the north county district of Fingal is an area he regards as a hugely attractive destination for golfers looking for a challenge.

“Fingal is the leisure playground for Dublin,” Magee says. “It’s the parks and the gardens, the castles. Within 45 minutes of the city centre there are 45 golf courses and of those, 26 are in Fingal, so Fingal is the playground, South Dublin has the mountains and Dun Laoghaire - Rathdown has the coast and the villages, Dalkey and Killiney.”

But with so many courses to choose from, just where should you start your tour of Dublin’s golfing enclaves?

North of the Liffey, clubs such as Malahide, Rush, Skerries and Donabate are always worth a visit as are the newer additions like St Margarets, Roganstown, Hollywood Lakes and Hollystown.

And while legendary links Portmarnock might not be the most accessible club in Ireland for visitors, the world famous venue is a must-play destination for anyone with a passing interest in the history of the game.

Just 12 miles from the city centre, the links hosted the British Amateur Championship of 1949 and the Canada Cup (or World Cup) in 1960, when Arnold Palmer got his first taste of victory on a links course in partnership with Sam Snead.

Host venue for 12 stagings of the Irish Open Championship, Portmarnock echoes with memories of great players from Harry Bradshaw and Christy O’Connor to Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.

Bernhard Langer won the Irish Open at Portmarnock in 1987 and found time to come back to the area less than a decade later to create the wonderful test at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links just next door to the famous links, on the grounds of what was once home to the Jameson whiskey dynasty.

Of course, Langer will always be associated with that other great Dublin golfing destination of Royal Dublin, where he lifted the Irish Open for the first time in 1984.

Also known as the "Old Lady" of Dollymount, the course has been played by all the greats from Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino to Greg Norman and Ernie Els as well as showbiz stars Danny Kaye, Bob Hope and Sean Connery.

Brilliantly renovated by the golf architect Martin Hawtree in recent years, Royal Dublin would not exist at all had it not been for a distinguished survivor of the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789, Captain William Bligh, who suggested that a breakwater be built be built to provide shipping with a safe, deep and straight passage into the heart of Dublin city.

The Bull Wall was built and the silting up which followed became the Bull Island, a nature reserve and home of fabled club where the Irish Amateur Open now finds a home.

Christy O'Connor Senior has, of course been part of the Royal Dublin folklore, but the club but another name that will forever be linked with the club is Dr. David Sheahan, who upstaged the professionals by winning the first Jeyes Tournament in 1962 when still a medical student.

Sheahan was not from Royal Dublin, of course, but a member of Grange in the south Dublin golfing enclave of Rathfarnham, where three-time Ryder Cup star Paul McGinley learnt the game and Eamonn Darcy took his first faltering steps as an assistant.

The tree-lined course might boast six-par threes but it is far from an easy test and the addition of six new holes on the “new lands” close to neighbouring Marlay Park, offer plenty of variety.

McGinley spent many a long hour picking the brains of former club professional Wattie Sullivan in the master’s workshop as he set about learning every aspect of the game.

But Sullivan was also a respected teacher of the game and he occasionaly received visits from a Cork-born Dublin policeman and his son, who lived just a five-minute drive away on Ballyroan Road.

That policeman was Paddy Harrington and the young boy, Padraig, would go on to become the first Irishman for 60 years to lift the Claret Jug awarded to the Open champion at Carnoustie last year.

His club, Stackstown, sits high above the city in the Dublin mountains, offering panoramic views of the metropolis and its golfing delights. It’s a golfing city "par excellence" as the view from Stackstown attests.