Links versus Parkland, and how Adare is changing the game  

John Kelly

The Golf Course at Adare Manor

John Kelly

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I have always liked links golf – the firm ground, the tight fairways, the undulations, the fescue grasses and the great views.  

If you take a quick glance at the Top 100 list, you will see 9 of the top 10 are links courses. Take a slightly deeper look and 8 of the top 10 are over 125 years old. The exceptions are new entry St. Patrick’s Links founded in 2021 and the top parkland course, Adare Manor at number 5.  

So, it seems any club with ambitions to be in top 10 would have to be beside the coast and be at least 125 years old. Is this fair? A parkland course has never occupied the top spot. I think the highest was when the new Adare entered the list at number 3 in 2019. It is now at number 5. Should Adare be higher, and should there be more parklands in the top 10 or higher up the list? 

Tradition alone is a great addition but shouldn’t be a prerequisite to the top 10. Tradition doesn’t improve the playing experience of a golf course. One of my favourite courses in the world is Prestwick Golf Club (Founded 1851) Scotland, the birthplace of The Open Championship. The clubhouse walls are adorned with pictures taken back in the late 1800’s and they could have been taken last week. The course has retained many of its features including the par-3 fifth hole, The Himalayas, similar to The Dell in Lahinch. Would it be my number 1 course? No, but I love it. 

In 2015, JP McManus bought Ireland’s then best parkland course and decided to close it for improvement. He retained Tom Fazio the world-renowned designer to make his dream a reality. To me this was akin to buying the Mona Lisa and getting Banksy to touch it up.  

Fazio didn’t change the order of the holes, but each tee and green has been rebuilt and redesigned from scratch. Over the years there has been massive improvements in drainage, irrigation, and turf science technology, and Fazio and McManus have taken full advantage of this.  

With JP’s investment and Fazio expertise they have created what I see as almost perfection. Adare joins the likes of Augusta and Pebble Beach that has installed a sub air system under every green. No other course in Ireland has this system installed. The sub air system allows control of the firmness of the greens while it also helps to improve the health of the turf, allowing for better surfaces.  

To me, I always begin to rate a golf course from a circle 50 yards from the green. This is the area where everyone plays, and it should provide a challenge that will fill you with joy when you play well and annoy you when you don’t. It should be challenging, but fair. Distance is overrated and doesn’t come high up on things I look for in a great course.   

I am lucky enough to have played Adare since its reopening in 2018 and I would have to say it was one of the most memorable rounds of golf I have ever played. From the moment you arrive at the gate and drive into the estate it just shouts quality. The attention to detail is out of this world. The practice facilities have course quality Titleist balls available, and the range targets are maintained like on-course greens.  

The clubhouse is away from the Manor but is also quality. Your first experience of the on-course greens is the putting green. You step onto the green and immediately the feeling in your feet lets you know they are different. The firmness and grass quality just jumps at you. You roll your first putt and can only smile at how perfect the roll is. If you hear a small sound in the background, that would be the sub air system doing its job. 

On the way to the 1st tee, you walk past the 9th green and look at the undulations around the green and just smile thinking to yourself ‘this will be interesting’. Once you tee off you are in for the most enjoyable four hours you are ever going to spend on a golf course. 18 holes of world class quality and nothing out of place. Add in a visit to the halfway house and I can’t think of a better day out.  

I believe that JP McManus and Tom Fazio have created almost perfection. They have travelled the world, seen the best and packaged it all up in the one course, gifting us Adare. They have ticked every box when it comes to creating a golf course.  

If I were one of the top links courses, I would be afraid of my position. Adare has set the bar on a different stratosphere for parkland golf in Ireland, and I’m sure others will follow.    

In the next 12 months when the world’s top golfers descend on Adare for JP’s Pro-Am, the world will see the quality Adare possesses. The world will take notice and Adare will only move in one direction – up.  


We are lucky in Ireland to have some of the greatest links courses in the world. Our links courses consistently dominate the top positions in the rankings. If you talked to a panel of golfers and surveyed them on whether they prefer to play links or parkland courses, these are the comments you are likely to see in favour or against: 

Parkland  Links 
Gives you a cushion of grass under the ball – easier to play shots.   Lies are too tight, no grass under the ball, harder to hit shots. 
Flatter fairways gives you flatter, easier lies.  Slopes everywhere. You rarely get a flat lie. 
Ball bounces straight most of the time.  The firmer ground conditions and slopes make the fairways bouncier. A ball can hit a slope and end up in the rough or worse. 
Shots that hit greens will mostly stay on the green.  A ball hitting the firmer green can end up off the green and in a difficult position.  
Flat relatively easy bunkers to play out of.  Deep pot bunkers very difficult to play out of. 
Shelter can be provided by trees.   Exposed to all the elements. 
Wet, mucky conditions in wintertime.   Dry under foot all year round. 
Good shots stay good.  Good shots can be bad and bad can be good depending on a bounce. 
Conditions generally more consistent.  You hear tour players commenting more at The Open Championship about getting the wrong end of the draw. The weather, especially wind can change when the tide changes. 


If you listen to the comments, it would seem that many parkland courses could occupy positions higher up the list. The links v parkland debate will go on as long as we have Top 100 rankings. I don’t think anyone is wrong but we are lucky to be able to get to play some of the world’s best courses without having to travel out of the country. Enjoy your golf wherever you play.  

  • You can view our Top 100 Courses in Ireland HERE

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