Opening Shot 

Kevin Markham

The first at Ardglass Golf Club

Kevin Markham

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As my opening article in Irish Golfer’s print magazine ‘Agenda’ section, it seems only fitting that we discuss the best opening hole in Irish golf. What better way to start than with the best start! 

So my question is this: what’s the best opening hole in Irish golf? Or, at least, where’s your favourite 1st hole? Where is your spirit lifted, your adrenaline stirred, your grip that bit tighter?  

It’s fair to say that most conversations about the best opening hole typically end in a two-horse race. These are the two standout heavyweight contenders and who would deny they are exceptional holes? Perhaps only those who have not experienced their charms. 

But there is more to it than highlighting the glamour and brilliance of Portstewart and Doonbeg. Some thought – not to mention a shout-out on Twitter – reveals that there are several others who deserve to be part of this conversation. Some have a far lower profile than the main contenders but that doesn’t mean they are not worthy… it may simply mean that not enough golfers have played them. I give you Scrabo as the perfect example. Elsewhere, there are some high flyers that demonstrate the two leading players don’t have it all their own way.  

Honestly, though, Portstewart and Doonbeg are so obvious it hurts. 

Any golfer who visits the Strand course at Portstewart knows they are going to experience an incredible opening par-4. The tee is located high above a beach that stretches far into the distance, with views to Mussenden Temple on the distant headland. Those views are almost as beautiful as the views of the hole that drops down from the tee and curls to the right, around the dunes. For years, the buckthorn flooded the inside of that dogleg, hiding the green, but that has all gone now. It reveals much more of the hole and the towering dunes beyond. It is 417 yards from the white tees and 400 from the reds. 

The straightness of Doonbeg’s par-5 1st only enhances the allure and anticipation of a hole that is made by the cloak of tall dunes folding around the back of the distant green. It looks so far away. The sea (Doughmore Bay) is to your left, the flotilla of fairway bunkers catches the eye straight ahead and the glamorous stone clubhouse seems to urge you on from a few yards behind. It is 510 yards from the white tees (561 from the back) and 494 from the reds. 

Let’s go back to the original question. Your answer comes down to what you think makes a great opening hole. For me, it’s about drama and excitement and what launches your round off to the perfect start. I don’t particularly want easy, I don’t mind if it’s hard, but I do mind if it’s dull. And I wouldn’t be a fan of a par-3 1st… and apologies to my home club of Greystones on that front.  

Based on the answers to my Twitter question, most golfers seem to feel the same way. 

But before I get to the results, there are two other worthy contenders that deserve mentioning: the 1st at Ballybunion (Old) was singled out on Twitter for the dramatic intervention of the graveyard down the fairway’s right-hand side. And then there’s Ardglass, with its ‘oldest clubhouse in the world’ behind you, cannons pointing the way and a tee box that requires you to drive over the sea to a fairway heading ever upwards to a high-turreted green. In Scotland, Machrihanish is revered as the best opening hole in Scotland and one of the best in the world… Ardglass would have it for breakfast. 

So who else enters this conversation? 

Top of the heap for me is Scrabo. It may work against it that the 1st is also Index 1, and it is a brutal introduction to this course’s steep gorse-drenched hillsides, but from the back tee, with Scrabo Tower looming over the green, it is an incredible sight. It is my favourite opening hole on the island. 

Other contenders include Enniscrone, Arklow, and The Island, while another obvious contender received not one mention. The Rosapenna St Patrick’s Links course only opened in 2021, so not enough people have played an exhilarating introduction to the Tom Doak links. 

Here is the final list based on some 400 responses to my Twitter question: 

Portstewart: 34 per cent 

Doonbeg: 23 per cent 

Ardglass: 15 per cent 

Ballybunion: 5.6 per cent 

Enniscrone: 4 per cent 

The Island: 3.7 per cent 

Arklow: 3.7 per cent 

Scrabo: 3 per cent 

Royal Portrush: 2.7 per cent 

Wicklow: 2 per cent 

Several other courses were mentioned: Belturbet, Bunclody, Co Sligo, Craddockstown, Cruit Island, Dooks, The European, Headfort (New), Kilkenny, Lahinch, Malone, North West, Portmarnock, Portmarnock Links, Royal County Down, Royal Curragh.  

Of one thing we can be sure: we have seriously rich pickings to choose from. Get out and experience a few this year.

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