Having spent my formative years playing courses in my native Northern Ireland, I couldn't resist the challenge to go back and re-visit some of the courses where golf is played in its purest links form.
My pilgrimage, with Dan Chalmers, a former Yorkshire Boys champion now at Burhill in Surrey, featured the rugged Glashedy links of Ballyliffin tucked away in the northern tip of Donegal (just over the border in Eire), the windswept Dunluce course at Royal Portrush and another Harry-Colt-designed gem at Royal County Down.
This road trip through God's Country - staying and playing and savouring the local hospitality - is as much a part of the craic in 'Norn Iron' as cream is to Devon and hot pot is to Lancashire.
Wash it down with a slurp of Guinness and life doesn't get much better.
At Ballyliffin we were met by the club secretary John Farren whose quizzical look questioned our sanity as we headed for the first tee in a squall of hailstones. Securing two par-4s, however, satisfied our determination to meet the challenge of a course designed by Tom Craddock and Pat Ruddy in 1995 - where accuracy off the tee is paramount.
Both opening par-3s demand your full attention. The downhill fifth needing a mid-iron shot to a well-protected green with Glashedy Rock as a backdrop. Next stop west is New York City!
By contrast, the raised seventh offers panoramic views of the Innishowen peninsula when on a clear day, they say, you can see the Statue of Liberty, though the claim may be Guiness-induced.
Even in nasty conditions the 8th and 9th greens are slick, while the 12th, into the wind, is as an intimidating a dogleg par-4 as you could meet. Take your bogey and run!
Bun a’ Chnoic is the par-5 13th straight up the shoot that, depending on the wind, the tilting green should be found easily enough in regulation. Two putts here for a solid par was welcome.
Take a minute on the 13th green of the par-5 Bun a’ Chnoic to admire the view to the Glashedy Rock in the distance banishing from your mind the bustle of tubes and buses, motorways and supermarket check-outs. Here, you're miles from anywhere…..
Severe run-offs are a feature of the short 14th, as the tough 15th starts the run for home - a succession of demanding holes finishing with the 18th which doglegs through the dunes.
At one stage it was rumoured Nick Faldo wanted to buy the place but finally settled for putting his mark on the Old course with some quality bunkering.
Ballyliffin is an unforgettable experience where you can play three rounds for €100 and with its Winter Special (until March 31, 2012) get a free breakfast after your 54 holes.
For more information visit www.ballyliffingolfclub.com or call (from UK) 00353 74 9376119
Next stop: Portrush. Click here to continue reading.