What are the best golf courses in Ireland? The Golf World Top 100 panel ranks the best layouts in the Emerald Isle.
Welcome to the Golf World Top 100 Best Golf Courses in Ireland
I didn’t have this word in mind as I played Lahinch in the worst weather I have experienced on a golf course (and I’ve seen a lot), but I always think there is something exotic about playing in Ireland. Even though in a golf sense we are one, as GB&I, it is a little different from a break on mainland Britain.
There are several logistical and cultural reasons for this I think, but purely in terms of the courses, Ireland offers something a little different.
The dunes are larger than almost anywhere in Britain for a start, so if that is you’re thing, you’ll be in heaven.
Ireland also does subtle links very well (Strandhill et al), it has wonderful parklands (often routed round historic castles) and it has secrets waiting to be discovered (Cruit Island is my latest one).
In this Top 100, my expert Irish panel – Peadar Conlon (New Forest), Pat Smyth (Royal Tara), Derek Wickham (Rosslare), Kevin Connelly (Donegal), Sean Kilroy (Rossmore), Mark Ryan (Lahinch, Grange) and Siobhan Cullen (Rathfarnham) – identify the country’s 100 best courses, which will, we hope, help you get the most out of your next trip to the exotic island.
Chris Bertram, Golf World Top 100 editor
What is the Golf World Top 100?
Golf World Top 100: Best Golf Courses in Ireland
Wicklow is one of Ireland’s ‘adventure’ courses, with holes on cliffs clinging to the coastline wherever possible. Sweet sea views are never more than the turn of a head away as the course tilts down towards the sea from the clubhouse above. Greens are superb but the rolling terrain, lilting fairways and exposure to wind mean they are not easy to find.
99. Kirkistown Castle
This low-running links was designed by James Braid and, happily, not much has changed in the decades since. Located on the eastern coastline of Northern Ireland, there is that flow of ‘classic links’ throughout, with light, sandy soil a joy to play off. One large ridge slices across the course and it is home to tees and greens, not to mention old stone turrets.
98. Druids Heath
A challenging heathland-style beast with big folds that often hide fairways, deep greenside bunkers and steep, three-putt greens. There is little forgiveness here, especially with some dense flanks of gorse, but the turf is crisp and the greens electric. It offers good variety but you must be cautious. The Heath can play very long, so choose your tee wisely.
The wooded valley that is home to the bunkering is big and threatening. It’s a stern challenge where big driving is key. If you can avoid the water hazards you should do well, especially on the perfect pairing of the par-4 9th and 18th holes as they run in parallel around a lake, which leads you to the impressive clubhouse.
96. Gowran Park
Not many golf courses are wrapped around and inside a horse racing track. Seven holes play over exposed, rolling terrain inside the rails, with the remainder outside playing through woods and over and around water. You cross the tracks on three separate occasions, with the first crossing leading to the exceedingly pretty but tough par-4 4th. It’s a heady mix and an enjoyable one, too.
A calm and elegant suburban parkland of tree-lined corridors, easy, hypnotic rhythm and a display of (refurbished) bunkering that catches the eye and lures the ball. Greens are a highlight and this Harry Colt design competes with Grange for the title of Dublin City’s best parkland. Be straight; be sensible.
A little-known, colourful and neatly packaged adventure, Portarlington is set on level terrain and overshadowed by majestic trees. Bordered by the River Barrow on one side, there is tantalising variety with the strongest holes well stretched throughout the course… most notably 3, 7, 8 and 14 to 17. It promises peaceful parkland perfection.
93. Moyola Park
Another little-known Northern Ireland parkland, Moyola Park flows through an utterly enchanting old estate. Towering oak trees and the wooded hill with a river coursing by are the course’s beating heart. Its design simplicity is also its strength and the hill is home to greens and tees on both nines. The 17th is one of those unforgettable par 3s.
92. Farnham Estate
A Jeff Howes-designed parkland that sweeps around a plush hotel. There are two very different nines, both offering striking variety. Both are parkland but while the front nine sit in a spacious setting of rolling hills and sentry trees, the back nine weave through forest. Both nines offer variety, but beware the shallow, bearded bunkering which can catch you unaware.
Located on Dublin’s edge yet tucked away from the hustle and bustle, Grange is over a century old, has a lilting landscape and a James Braid pedigree. That guarantees a maturity that embraces you all the way around. Expect the highest quality and a parkland boasting plenty of variety.
90. Powerscourt (East)
The original of Powerscourt’s two courses, the East heads in and out of trees at the start and finish, and breaks into open, rolling terrain in between. The rhythm is good, the greens even better and the big putting surfaces are matched only by its sibling (the West). Good rises and falls create plenty of tempting holes but the course is well known for its closing stretch.
89. Killarney (Mahony’s Point)
Mahony’s Point intertwines with the club’s more muscular Killeen course and so shares the same terrain and the same stunning scenery. This is a gentler, oldschool affair, with more accessible fairways and greens, as well as a more relaxed pace. The par-3 18th is one of Ireland’s great finishing holes, hitting over Lough Leane to a green cocooned by towering pines.
A wonderfully conditioned and presented test that gets increasingly tough as your round progresses. One of its great strengths is its rhythm, helped by the dark trees, nests of woods and careful landscaping that create such vibrancy the whole way around.
87. St Anne’s
This low, cunning links is wrapped around a modern clubhouse on Bull Island, in Dublin Bay. A scattering of small trees emphasises the course’s exposure and low links shots will serve you well. There are so many avenues open to you and on a shortish, smartly bunkered course, that means lots of inventiveness around the greens.
Ballinrobe, for all its quality, remains one of those lovely surprises: an unexpected beauty lost in Ireland’s rustic countryside. It languishes over an old estate of 300 acres with big trees and gentle changes in elevation. There are old stone walls, ponds and lakes, swathes of gorse and one good hole after another. It has an easy, open flow.
85. Tramore (Old Course)
Tramore plays over an easy landscape of generous width and open air. It manages to make it feel calm and welcoming. But don’t be fooled, for there are plenty of challenges from water and the many trees. The par-4 17th, for example, is just 316 metres but it is Index 5: trees crowd the tee box and two accurate shots are needed.
84. The Heritage
Spread over sprawling countryside, Seve designed a big course that is maturing impressively. Water features abound and the bunkering is big and threatening. It’s a stern challenge where big driving is key. If you can avoid the water hazards you should do well, especially on the perfect pairing of the par-4 9th and 18th holes as they run in parallel around a lake, which leads you to the impressive clubhouse.
On the outskirts of Dublin, Hermitage remains an oasis of calm… as it has done for decades. It is a classic, mature parkland moving over an undulating landscape that slips down to the River Liffey. The back nine has more space and individuality, while a rebunkering programme has added vigour and hazards appropriate to today’s golfer. It is always highly regarded for the quality of its greens.
Take away a simple starting stretch of six holes and you have a special parkland cavorting along the edges of Clew Bay, on the Wild Atlantic Way. From holes 7 to 18 there is lots of movement and intrigue as an undulating landscape is well used, but it is the stretch on Clew Bay (12 to 15) that gives Westport serious kudos. The par-3 13th hits straight at Ireland’s holiest mountain while the par-5 15th requires a big drive to clear the inlet.
81. The K Club (South Course)
The South course offers a very different experience to its Ryder Cup sibling. It was designed to be a links-heathland hybrid with vast mounding channelling fairways. There is a muscular, man-made feel to it and it lies very open as you sweep through the heart of the course. Water is a frequent visitor especially on the strong back nine and the excellent finish, as well as the famous par-5 7th.
A links-style inland course sweeping over low ground with an easy, captivating rhythm. Golden grasses define fairways and greens are masterfully presented. Easy early on, the test builds on the back nine as you protect your card. Forest borders three sides and a five-star resort the other.
79. Laytown & Bettystown
An out-and-back test with the most rugged and shapely holes in the opening nine, next to the sea. Here you are faced with an opening barrage of devilish fall-offs around greens, blind shots and unexpected hollows. The longer back nine is a more level affair, but more exposed to the elements. It is a fine combination that tests your short game and your imagination.
Renowned for its annual Scratch Cup (won by many Irish greats) and its par-3 2nd, Mullingar is an Irish parkland stalwart of old-school charm. A James Braid design (1937), it has the hallmarks of greatness with perfect routing and a well-balanced weight of holes. Renovations in 2005 have moved the course forward with more modern greens and bunkering, but the Braid character remains.
A splash of lakeside heaven with three peninsulas thrusting out into the water and holes brushing up to the very edges. Water can be found elsewhere, too, and this contributes to a smart, colourful and testing course with a powerful finishing stretch. The course wraps around the hotel, offering you a sneak preview of what a charming adventure awaits.
An arboretum is home to this dazzling parkland. With 60 different species of tree, that’s exactly how it feels as they overshadow you for the day. You are kept on your toes thanks to the shape of the holes and the subtle changes in elevation which can hide tricky greens. It is famous for the par 3 in the walled garden, but Coollattin promises intrigue all the way around.
Not a single tree was felled to create this elegant, lazy parkland and it coasts almost regally between an army of mature trees for all 18 holes. The rhythm is effortless, which sits well with its pretty ponds, peaceful surroundings and unpretentious airs. It will test every part of your game but expect one of those relaxing rounds that you never want to end.
The flow of the eskers is hypnotic, but Birr can toss you around like you’re being shipwrecked. You never know what’s over the next incline. It adds hugely to the test and the fun. Lovely tight turf and beguiling holes (10-15 especially) make this a big adventure. Country golf in all the best possible ways.
Ireland’s second tier of links courses is well served by the likes of this punchy, low-lying and quality course. Most holes are on show from the tee, but the well-defended, curvaceous and fascinating greens will taunt you all day. It may not be bucket-list fodder but it sates the heart. Five excellent par 3s in a par 70 that possesses both bark and bite.
72. Mount Wolseley
Routed around a modern hotel, this is a big resort course that requires a sensible choice of tee box. At over 7,100 yards from the back tees, it can break hearts. You’ll need strong driving here and the big, slick putting surfaces demand an inspired touch. The opening holes show off some elevation changes, but it quickly levels out. Water, however, is everywhere, most dramatically on the acclaimed par-3 11th.
71. Powerscourt (West Course)
Of Powerscourt’s two courses, the West uses the greater elevation changes to create tumbling, darting holes and dramatic green sites. This large estate – popular for many things besides golf – promises big trees and woods while still giving fairways lots of breathing room. The greens are superb and are up there with the best when it comes to quality and shape and speed. The Great Sugar Loaf is ever present across the valley and you hit towards it – and Powerscourt House – on the closing stretch.
70. New Forest
The 18th century manor house (now clubhouse) at the heart of the course belies the more recent origins of this impressive but challenging parkland. There are ponds and marshes, old stone walls and elegant trees, and a tempo that gives New Forest sweet rhythm. It will be a big day with the driver and keeping your head.
69. Royal Curragh
Ireland’s oldest course (1852), Royal Curragh is set on heathland-like turf where pine and gorse are scattered liberally. There is a natural bumpiness to proceedings and an openness that shows off the holes and their rises and falls. It is a course for big driving, so bring some adrenaline with you. Old school design and a length that will offer birdie opportunities aplenty.
68. North West
Beauty comes in many guises. The scale of North West may not catch big-game links hunters, but the devil’s in the detail. Here, subtlety shines as do the sweet green sites and crumpled terrain that will catch you off guard. Low and cunning best describes this links… and that’s what is required of your game.
67. Esker Hills
For a big, cavorting adventure, look no further than Esker Hills. The eskers (ridges) tumble hypnotically around you and create the platform for holes to sweep you through high octane dog-legs and valleys to superbly placed green sites. There are blind shots and wicked, short par 4s, which all add to the uniqueness of Shane Lowry’s home club.
66. Carton House (O’Meara Course)
The O’Meara is a big, modern and more traditional parkland layout. It rambles easily over the Carton House estate (which straddles two counties), with trees staying well back and framing holes almost seductively. The course is renowned for its own Amen Corner (holes 14-16), which plays back and forth over the River Rye. They form one of the prettiest stretches of holes in Ireland.
65. Galgorm Castle
Such relaxed pace for a parkland and it comes thanks to easy, level terrain that leaps over not one but two rivers. Home to the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, you can be sure of the conditioning and a round of golf that is pretty and perfectly balanced, from one hole to the next. Water influences play on 12 holes.
64. Dun Laoghaire
A modern parkland floating across a gentle hillside at a seductive pace. The three distinct nines ensure variety – the Lower is the most level; the Middle is the most intriguing; the Upper is the most shapely – but high quality runs throughout, especially the impressive greens. It is very playable and a fabulous clubhouse oversees it all.
Bordering the mighty Co. Louth, this links runs through low dunes to start, getting larger and more threatening as you head into the back nine. Use the more open holes at the start to feel out the bunkering and strong greens so that you’re prepared for the excellent finish that starts at the 14th. The tee boxes on 16, 17 and 18 sit high above the beach as a straight stretch leads you home.
A parkland for the ages and one of the few Irish courses to be designed by James Braid. Tullamore is ensconced in towering trees which influence your play on numerous tight dog-legs – your driving needs control. The greens are on the smallish side and are tricky to read, so if you walk off here with your handicap intact you have done very well indeed… especially with a testing final three holes.
This muscular course was built around the owners’ championship ambitions. It feels glamorous, has space and length, bustles with colour and no expense was spared. Water appears on 13 holes with ponds, lakes and streams ever present and ever colourful. This is a big course (choose your tee wisely) with generous fairways and big swinging greens. The par 5s will really test your mettle.
60. Luttrellstown Castle
This is Dublin city’s biggest, grandest parkland, set over an estate that oozes colour and class. There are big trees and lots of water lapping the edges of fairways and greens. It is very accessible and friendly, with easy terrain, the gentlest of dog-legs and strong par 3s. It has an impressive clubhouse, too.
59. Galway Bay
Big and flashy, perfectly conditioned and hypnotically shaped, Galway Bay tumbles from the clubhouse down to the sea. Both nines loop cleverly to bring you to the water’s edge and it is all on show from the clubhouse. It is not a links, but there are elements that suggest as much and the wind is ever present. The course is exposed and strongly shaped as generous fairways curve between flanks of gorse to big green sites.
A low-crumpled links leads you on an out-and-back type routing, with one long large dune separating you from the sea. The terrain is constantly unpredictable and with only one dog-leg of note (the 1st) you’d think that makes it straightforward. It isn’t. There are blind shots and hidden dangers which give this calm, sweet links extra bite.
57. Royal Belfast
Perched on the edge of Belfast Lough, this elegant and precisely packaged parkland is renowned as Ireland’s oldest golf club and revered for the quality of its greens. There is breathing room here, but only to let the design and bunkering shine. The course slides down towards the lough where holes 10 and 11 float right above the water. These are the holes which will live very long in the memory.
56. Dromoland Castle
Of Ireland’s big parklands, Dromoland Castle receives insufficient love. The setting is majestic and the course takes off at the par-3 7th and never lets up. It’s beauty and thrills every step of the way as you play past the castle (a five-star hotel of the highest calibre), over a tumbling landscape, around ancient trees and natural ponds to a superb finish… where a lone, dark cedar waits in the middle of the 18th fairway.
Clandeboye has two very different courses with the Dufferin the main event. The heathland-like bumpy terrain has wonderful depth and vibrancy before it slips down into more classic parkland mode. The variety is excellent and big trees threaten and cajole in equal measure as holes curve graciously between them. The par-4 4th is the best and hardest test, curling left tightly through trees to a green surrounded by gorse and more trees.
Such parkland elegance is captivating. Lost in deep forest, lone oak trees stride (as do deer) through the heart of an old estate creating an almost regal rhythm. With plenty of movement, this is a big game course with loads of variety and some very tricky greens. In a round of 18 strong holes, you finish with a startling par-5, par-3 duo.
A modern parkland where nine holes feel like they’ve been here for generations, while the other half are set on a more open but steadily maturing landscape. This is the second youngest Irish golf course but you wouldn’t know it, not with the River Slaney influencing play on five holes and trees towering over you. It is renowned for its closing stretch where the Slaney rushes along your left and an elevator waits beside the 17th green.
52. Belvoir Park
The trees on this Harry Colt design are big and bountiful, planted at the time of design so that they embellish the course’s setting and rhythm. The layout on quietly undulating terrain works beautifully, showing off the great man’s vision, and it is very solid from start to finish. A post-round visit to the clubhouse balcony reveals a lot of the course.
51. Killeen Castle
This is Ireland’s longest and most spacious golf course and it wraps around a pictureperfect castle on a vast, picturesque estate. It is a Jack Nicklaus Signature design, so expect generous fairways and heavily shaped green complexes stuffed with bunkers. On most holes you won’t see another soul, which means every hole stands alone. Choose your tee wisely and expect a late, closing stretch challenge.
This enchanting, dew-drenched island is home to 27 holes, a golf academy and a five star resort. The course rises and falls through avenues of tall trees, while the old estate walls give the course a sense of maturity that belies its relatively recent (1993) origins. Host to three Irish Opens, expect all the bells and whistles that come with a ‘big’ course.
49. Concra Wood
Located in Castleblayney and designed by Christy O’Connor Snr and Jnr, Lake Muckno comes into play frequently on this young parkland. Holes have been routed smartly over a surprisingly hilly terrain to take impressive advantage of a fabulous site. The lake (lough in Gaelic) – which incorporates several small islands – and the course are, as you would expect, predictably spectacular bedfellows, with 11 holes luring the golfer to the water’s edge.
Located to the south of the Wicklow Mountains, this impressive, modern course is routed along the valley between mature pines and in between a meandering stream. Clever green complexes add to the appeal of this fine Paul McGinley design, one we have always rated highly.
47. PGA National Ireland
PGA National Ireland, which you may know better as Slieve Russell, is one of only eight PGA National designated resorts in the world and one of Ireland’s top parklands. Designed by Patrick Merrigan, one of the men behind Old Head of Kinsale, it sits within a mature country estate that is the basis for one of our GB&I Top 100 resorts.
46. Headfort (New Course)
Established in 1928, Headfort’s original course was added to in 2000 by the New – designed by Christy O’Connor. We rate the modern track as the better of this north-west Dublin club’s two fine courses, which are routed between mature trees of various species and water features. Tree-lined and water-laced, this old estate even throws in two islands to add some extra oomph to proceedings.
Malone was founded in the 1895 but moved to an undulating wooded location near Ballydrain in the late 1950s, when it was designed by John Harris from the CK Cotton firm. The Hawtree firm redesigned the first nine soon after, which is now known as the Ballydrain nine and is dominated by the 25-acre trout lake. Elegant parkland.
44. Carton House (Montgomerie Course)
The premier course at this GB&I top 10 resort was laid out by Colin Montgomerie in association with European Golf Design. It is a big-boned, modern parkland course defined by its bunkering, as well as by dramatic and slick green complexes and a constantly shifting landscape with barely a tree on it.
43. Ceann Sibeal
Originally designed by the prolific Eddie Hackett, this 6,680-yard links sits beautifully in the natural linksland of the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’. Noted for its fine fescue-covered undulating fairways, a stream meanders into play on 13 of the holes.
42. Killarney (Killeen Course)
The star of this three-course club is set on beautiful Lough Leane and hosted the Irish Open in 2010 and 2011. The scene is spectacular, with the 1st, 3rd and 4th holes all bringing the lake into play. The drama then comes from the mature trees as holes move easily between them and with the backdrop of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range.
A quirky links, designed by members of yesteryear, then updated by Eddie Hackett, who extended it to 18, and now being improved by Ally McIntosh. Located on rippling linksland on the edge of the Atlantic and founded in 1931, it sits across the Bay from County Sligo. It has edged up our rankings since our first Irish list in 2013, and is perhaps unfortunate not to be in the 2021 top 40.
40. Ballybunion (Cashen Course)
One panellist believes Ballybunion’s No.2 is the most underrated course in Ireland. While it can be viewed as a bit too severe at times, it is a great and heroic course that is worth a trip on its own. Offers ocean views, tonnes of quirkiness and 18 very individual holes – boring the Cashen is not.
39. Cruit Island
Scenic, dramatic, thrilling and raw – all that and ‘only’ a nine-hole links. Its rise, therefore, should not be a surprise. Cruit (pronounced Critch) entered the top 50 for the first time in 2017 and now it moves into the top 40 in front of some stellar names. The beauty of this remote Donegal links must be seen to be believed. The eccentricity of it must be experienced to be believed. And the sheer joy of a round here must be savoured to be believed.
38. Royal Dublin
Bull Island, Dublin
This Harry Colt design among the dunes of Bull Island follows a classic out-and-back routing. It has been revised by Martin Hawtree and now Clayton, DeVries and Pont are poised with a renovation in line with Colt’s principles. Steeped in history and a fine traditional links.
Little Island, Cork
Founded in 1888 and redesigned in 1927 by Alister MacKenzie. He skilfully plotted its holes through and over the mature parkland landscape that runs beside Cork Harbour and the result is worth every bit of this placing in our ranking. One of the country’s top non-links tracks.
This clifftop course might be dwarfed for profile by Ireland’s many superstar names, but it lacks for little. It is steeped in history, with seven of its holes laid out in 1896, but it didn’t become 18 until David Jones extended it in 1998. Starts with one of Ireland’s great first shots and has plenty of highlights.
One of the great unsung links of Ireland, Dooks is located between the triumvirate of Waterville, Tralee and Ballybunion. One of the great settings and its holes were improved by Martin Hawtree’s revision. Dooks is another fun Irish links that offers challenge, interest and scenery.
Carlow Town, Carlow
Notable position for this traditional course in Carlow, designed by Cecil Barcroft and Tom Simpson, with mature trees bordering the fairways on a rolling, well-drained parkland. Each hole represents a different challenge, including approaches to elevated greens, dog-legs and water features.
33. Royal County Down (Annesley Course)
The Annesley – which weaves its way through the Championship course – has been enhanced by three new Martin Ebert holes. These take the layout as close to the sea as any of the club’s 36 holes; magnificent views from all three. A terrific foil for the No.1 track.
32. Narin & Portnoo
Enjoys a wonderful setting in a classic Irish dunescape with holes routed around and through the heart of this Donegal links. American architect Gil Hanse’s nous adds to the allure of this links of great variety, with phase one of his development now complete and available to play from this year.
31. Royal Portrush (Valley Course)
Not as explosive as Portrush’s No.1, but a seriously good links too – and despite losing two of its holes on the most dramatic landscape to the Dunluce in order to host The Open, the Valley has actually improved thanks to the input of Martin Ebert. Harry Colt original with some typically good par 3s.
30. Portmarnock Links
This 1990s Bernhard Langer design, in association with European Golf Design, is in better condition than ever and deserves this top 30 slot. The first nine holes deliver less drama as they are set on relatively flat land, the back nine give a more true links feel, played around dunes. The real deal.
Designed by Eddie Hackett, ‘Murvagh’ is a big, long and tranquil links that sits on its own peninsula surrounded by the beauty of Donegal. The landscape tumbles dramatically on the holes closest to the sea, creating a hypnotic and deceptive rhythm. Some seriously large duns to be negotiated.
28. Druids Glen
Newtown Mount Kennedy, Wicklow
Its title as ‘The Augusta of Europe’ is a little far fetched, but it is a lovely experience to play down its manicured fairways, flanked by mature trees and play to greens often protected by water and framed by glorious flora. Host of the European Tour back in the ’80s and ’90s and still has a prestige to it.
27. The K Club (North Course)
Expect large, undulating greens, big (often very deep) bunkers and a terrific variety to the holes at this former Ryder Cup venue. Now known as the North, rather than the Palmer, there are several risk-reward challenges, not least on the excellent closing stretch that is a fine conclusion to a round.
26. Rosapenna (Old Tom Course)
Old Tom Morris, James Braid, Harry Vardon, Harry Colt and Pat Ruddy have all worked on the Old Tom, and we love it as a perfect complement to the Sandy Hills. It is playable, but has just enough challenge and is full of characterful holes. Contrasting nines, but consistent in terms of quality.
Another West of Ireland Eddie Hackett links design, and again he has used the natural landscape to maximum effect. A flattish opening nine throw up some interesting, unexpected bumps, but it is the back nine that will enthrall visitors. The scenery is spectacular throughout.
A fun and scenic links with one of the finest tee shots in Ireland. After a workmanlike 1st, the 2nd takes the breath away in every respect… for the sea view from its elevated tee, for the breeze that is likely blowing across your left cheek, and for the challenge that awaits. Part of a superb front half.
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23. Mount Juliet
For many years one of the finest parkland courses in Ireland, it comfortably gets into the top 25 despite some very fine links for competition. Set in a mature estate with several water features and towering trees, this brawny Jack Nicklaus design is good enough to have been in our GB&I Top 100.
22. Castlerock (Mussenden Course)
The Mussenden (there is also a nine-hole Bann) offers the chance to attack in the shape of five par 5s, but some of that kindness is retracted by some long, tough short holes. Not least the 4th – ‘Leg O’Mutton’ – a 200-yard hole with a railway line, a burn, OB and a raised green.
21. Lough Erne
This Nick Faldo-designed course flows over the lakelands of Fermanagh. Spacious, elegant and enchanting, Lough Erne has a lazy rhythm that starts in the forest before breaking out into the open where the holes stretch into the distance over tumbling, water-laced terrain. Has been a GB&I entry.
20. Portstewart (Strand Course)
Golf is full of tired cliches, but sometimes they carry truth. Take the suggestion that the front nine of Portstewart’s Strand is one of the most memorable in the world, for example. And the opening tee shot is one of the game’s best. Both irrefutably true. The back nine is fine, just relatively low key.
19. Rosapenna (Sandy Hills Course)
Sandy Hills is a real assault on the senses – in a very good way – and you should be prepared for a test like few others. This vintage Pat Ruddy design plays between, over and around some huge dunes and is never less than explosive. It examines you off the tee and it examines you around the greens, but it is an epic journey with gorgeous views.
18. Ballyliffin (Old Course)
The first course at Ballyliffin and while not quite the beast of the Glashedy, it is easy to get the Old wrong. It is definitely not the cute, short, older course to the brawny new one, because the Old is challenging in its own right. They share the same peaceful setting and wonderful conditioning, too.
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Started out as a nine-holer just after World War I, but Eddie Hackett gave it substance with a 1974 extension. Donald Steel then reworked it further and it returned to our GB&I ranking in 2012. Its undulating fairways lined by marramcovered ridges have stayed there ever since.
16. Ballyliffin (Glashedy Course)
Another Pat Ruddy entry, this time in association with Tom Craddock. The Glashedy is a brawny, modern links that is usually played with a breeze and always on immaculate surfaces. This is seaside golf on a scale rarely beaten in GB&I, and it was a predictably fine host for the European Tour.
15. Old Head of Kinsale
Our marking system could have been made purely to identify Old Head’s relative qualities; it tells the story perfectly. You’ll play a few modest holes, but you’ll play more that you swap around as your screensaver and talk about for decades. Clifftop highs in every sense.
Some work at the end of the less dramatic front nine promises to enhance this clifftop links further, but we like Tralee already. Laid out by Arnold Palmer, there are few courses on this list with a better setting, as the marks indicate. If breathtaking views and drama are your thing, you’ll love it.
13. The European Club
Brittas Bay, Wicklow
It is hardly surprising this modern links encapsulates the philosophy of one of Ireland’s greatest architects, given Pat Ruddy owns the course as well as designed it. The European is exactly the way Ruddy likes his golf: exacting, explosive and memorable. Daunting, but dramatic.
A notable rise for a course we have always ranked highly. This nudge to the edge of our top 10 is illustrative of our affection for a wild links that is grand in scale and variety. Perched on the western edge of Ireland, there is so much to love about Carne, from its community feel to the epic holes.
Golf World rated Doonbeg highly as a course – by Greg Norman – and a resort since it opened and that is still the case despite the reworking by Martin Hawtree and the effects of coastal erosion that affected five holes. The brilliant/ludicrous 14th has sadly gone, but plenty of highlights still remain.
Rosses Point, Sligo
Benbulben – Ireland’s answer to Table Mountain – Drumcliffe Bay, the Ox Mountains, the Atlantic and Drumcliffe Church of Yeats fame are the Insta-worthy backdrops for this Harry Colt links. No big dunes but elevation changes and a stream help create holes with plenty of variety.
This future Ryder Cup host used to hang around in the 20s, alongside Ireland’s other elite parklands. Not now. The only course in the top 20 that doesn’t sit by the sea has been transformed by a costly Tom Fazio redesign that has turned it into one of GB&I’s most intriguing and immaculate courses. Uberforgiving off the tee, Adare comes into its own in green complexes that are some of the most interesting, devilish and entertainingly dumbfounding in Europe. There isn’t a blade of grass out of place here, and plenty of memorable holes. A Herculean effort to split Ireland’s iconic links and crack the top 10, but bucketlist Adare is worthy of this place.
Few dazzling sea views on offer here, but some impressive dunes nonetheless. A good player’s links course. Traditional, no-frills layout that does not try to overwhelm you and just lets effortless holes sitting in the natural terrain do all its talking. ‘Baltray’ is the choice of those in the know in Ireland.
Not a big name and easily overlooked, but a brilliant links – as we’ve been stating for the past few years. Martin Ebert’s work has enhanced what we always rated as one of Ireland’s elite. New bunkering, tees and greens, plus a couple of new holes, see it rubbing shoulders with the big names.
Liscannor Bay, Clare
“In my top three, without a doubt,” says one panellist, and if you like eccentric holes that still make you smile years later, it might well be in yours too. ‘Dell’ and ‘Klondyke’ are the icons but they are just two of a collection of memorable holes, many of which have a wonderful setting. Fabulous fun.
The marks tell the story here… the Old loses room on the rest of the top five on consistency alone. The start is relatively modest, but from the 6th tee onwards, one jaw-dropping hole follows another. Its dunes are intimidatingly large and the holes cut between them astonishingly dramatic.
Waterville is all about atmosphere: the journey to this corner of mystical Kerry; the arrival at a club of Payne Stewart and Bill Clinton; the view over the linksland from the clubhouse’s first floor; the epic holes and the tales behind them. Go and savour them for yourself – we’re confident you’ll ‘get it’.
It might be hard to believe, but our No.3 always splits our panels; some would have it pushing Portrush and RCD, while others feel it lacks enough charm to be at that level. This Malahide links is certainly a player’s course, demanding quality striking to enjoy the full experience. A pedigree club and pedigree course, Portmarnock oozes class.
The best No.2 in the world? Only the No.2s in Scotland, America, England and Australia would come anywhere near to Portrush. It just so happens to be up against our World No.1 in its own country – and it is only just edged out by it. Indeed, if you dislike blind shots, you’d probably have Portrush as your top Irish course.
This Harry Colt original was altered in preparation for The Open by Martin Ebert, with the final two holes on relatively flat terrain replaced by two new ones among the dunes of its sister course, the Valley.
Most agree that the new par 5 and par 4 enhance the Dunluce, and whether it is our panellists or the world’s top players competing in The Open, complaints about the Dunluce are conspicuous by their absence.
It is a true all-rounder in terms of its appeal. It may not quite have as many sensational views as Royal County Down, but it is unquestionably very pleasing on the eye. It may not have quite the expanse of wild dunescape of Rosapenna or Carne, but it is hardly lacking in drama.
Ballybunion in the south may have a more revered stretch of holes among its fabled, titanic dunes. But the Dunluce – literally – scores highly in every category, encompassing beautifully every aspect of the game which makes it enjoyable. This is a thoroughbred with no weaknesses.
It’s been our GB&I Links No.1 and our World No.1, and now it’s our Ireland No.1 – so you may be tired of hearing how good Royal County Down is. Don’t be. We are fortunate to have this peerless seaside course on our shores. An unremitting examination, but bursting with epic holes and a picture-postcard setting.
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