If there is one thing that golfers can agree on, it’s that they all love lists of top courses. And if there’s another thing they can all agree on, it’s that their own lists would be different. No two people have exactly the same opinion of a golf course and that’s what makes these listings all the more interesting.
Here at IGM, we’ve combined the opinions of golfers from numerous different areas of the industry to come up with our Top 100 Courses in Ireland and to do this we used a number of criteria (listed in the graphics below), and also drew on the experience of the panel who are listed below also.
2020, as we all know, wasn’t the greatest year and as such the rankings are done this year with the proviso that the panel didn’t get to visit and play as many courses as we would under normal circumstances. We also conducted the meetings by video conference to ensure adherence to all Covid-related restrictions. That said, information and details from golf courses were obtained directly from clubs where it pertained to work undertaken, while for the first time we also offered you, the public, the opportunity to have your say and give feedback on golf courses that you visited in 2020.
The 2021 Top 100 ranking panel
(Up⇑, Down⇓, Same ↔, New Entry, since last year’s rankings)
100 TRAMORE www.tramoregolfclub.com
Tramore’s spacious parkland rhythm and neat routing ensures its popularity. That it has 27 holes only helps to enhance that reputation. The land is well used to present cleverly shaped holes.
VERDICT: Gently undulating terrain and smart design see Tramore back in the Top 100. (New Entry)
99 CLANDEBOYE (Dufferin) www.cgc-ni.com
Located outside Newtownards, this is smart parkland golf that slips down quiet slopes and between tall trees embracing variety all the way. The 4th is one of the best you’ll play. Host to 2021 PGA EuroPro Tour.
VERDICT: Don’t ignore the sparkling second course (Ava). (New Entry)
98 CASTLEKNOCK www.castleknockgolfclub.ie
The young and ever-popular Castleknock moves over a shapely terrain. It feels quite open so it is left to the well-placed bunkers and water features to threaten. There are five par fives and five par threes.
VERDICT: Well routed and with a sense of adventure. (Same)
97 MOYOLA PARK www.moyolaparkgolfclub.co.uk
Deep woodland, old estate, effortless charm and a river running through it. At the heart of the course is a heavily wooded hill. You play into it, you play out of it, you play through it. No fuss, just fun.
VERDICT: A rich and colourful parkland lost in trees. (⇑2)
96 BALLINROBE www.ballinrobegolfclub.com
A parkland that continues to hide its light. Ballinrobe is strong in every department, from course to facilities. Only its locale in Co. Mayo plays against it for travelling golfers.
VERDICT: Charming, peaceful parkland. (⇑1)
95 CASTLETROY www.castletroygolfclub.ie
This smart suburban course is an impressive parkland of subtle hole shapes and sweet conditioning. The back nine ramps up the excitement.
VERDICT: Excellent maintenance and a very steady course from start to finish. (⇑1)
94 ROYAL CURRAGH www.royalcurraghgolf.ie
Ireland’s oldest course has upped its game too, with conditioning vastly improved and the sheep now confined to fenced off areas. Heathland turf playable all year round.
VERDICT: One of Ireland’s unique and special golfing occasions. (Same)
93 DUNDALK www.dundalkgolfclub.ie
A classic parkland course set over a rolling landscape, Dundalk has benefitted from recent investment which sees it continue to rise. Narrow fairways, large trees, well-placed bunkers and water features mean it’s a full experience.
VERDICT: A fun round at this friendly ‘oldie’ with its new flourishes. (⇑2)
92 BALBRIGGAN www.balbriggangolfclub.com
This is a flowing parkland with big undulations and tall, dark evergreens shadowing fairways. Despite the trees, it still feels spacious and cleverly routed holes take advantage of the natural landscape and water features.
VERDICT: Smart routing shows how well it fits into the landscape. (⇓1)
91 NORTH WEST www.northwestgolfclub.com
One of the founding members of the GUI, North West is a classic links where the layout was dictated by the natural landscape. Its low fairways and sweet greens emphasise the beauty of old-school design.
VERDICT: A too often-ignored course, North West delivers a links education. (⇑1)
90 KILLARNEY (MAHONY’S POINT) www.killarneygolfclub.ie
The gentler of Killarney’s two courses has been receiving enhancements and its subtle parkland layout, under the gaze of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, promises a relaxing round before you reach the stunning par three 18th.
VERDICT: There’s an old school charm here. (⇓1)
89 MOUNT WOLSELEY www.mountwolseley.ie
A big, pulsating Christy O’Connor Jr parkland wrapped around a hotel. The course is known for its tough and thrilling start and your driver will be well used as you negotiate some big water features.
VERDICT: A parkland that demands your best and a sensible choice of tee. (⇓1)
88 CORBALLIS www.corballislinks.com
This short links (par 66) rolls over some chaotic and shapely dunes. It promises fun and adventure and, in the par four 3rd, one of Ireland’s great golf holes. It is still looking to find the right position in our rankings.
VERDICT: Public links golf that packs in the adventure. (⇓3)
87 LAYTOWN & BETTYSTOWN www.landb.ie
A nice upwards bump for a links where the low-flowing inland back nine butts up against the crumpled, tossing front nine. Squeezed against the coast its out-and-back nature makes wind a big factor.
VERDICT: A shining example of one of Ireland’s lesser-known links. (⇑3)
86 SEAPOINT www.seapointgolflinks.com
The two nines emphasise how the smoother terrain to start (the opening inland nine) builds momentum and then switches up a gear for a more muscular back nine and a final flourish beside the sea.
VERDICT: The chute of dunes that leads you home is a beautiful sight. (⇑1)
85 ROYAL COUNTY DOWN (ANNESLEY) www.royalcountydown.org
This par 66 proves that size isn’t everything, especially with a rise of one place. The recent new holes are well settled in and the conditioning is as good as its world-class sibling. A strategic test of accuracy and common sense.
VERDICT: It packs a punch but leave your driver at home! (⇑1)
84 HEADFORT (OLD) www.headfortgolfclub.ie
Without the New course alongside, the Old course would receive far more plaudits. It is a tricky but charming course routed through big trees. Never easy but always enjoyable.
VERDICT: Bring an accurate radar as those charming trees will swallow your ambition. (Same)
83 POWERSCOURT (EAST) www.powerscourtgolfclub.com
Powerscourt’s original course mixes an opening tree-drenched corner with a more open, curvaceous terrain before trees and water return for a grandstand finish. Views of the Great Sugar Loaf follow you all day.
VERDICT: An interesting mix of holes on a testing course with excellent greens. (⇓1)
82 MULLINGAR www.mullingargolfclub.com
This classic old parkland is not the longest of courses – certainly by today’s standards – but the tree drenched landscape and some strong shifts in terrain create plenty of intrigue.
VERDICT: A solid, colourful and testing parkland which dates back to 1894. (⇑1)
81 MACREDDIN www.macreddingolfclub.com
The Paul McGinley-designed course settles at 81 this year. It stretches over two sides of a valley in the depths of Co. Wicklow. Over the hillsides and through avenues of pine trees and gorse it is one of Ireland’s big adventures.
VERDICT: A tumbling parkland that has to be played to be believed. (Same)
80 ST. MARGARET’S www.stmargaretsgolf.com
This Dublin parkland has all the elements you’d hope for with water features aplenty and some stand-out holes. The quietly undulating terrain has been well employed and its location reinforces its popularity.
VERDICT: A sweet, colourful landscape and a neatly packaged course. (Same)
79 ST. ANNE’S www.stanneslinksgolf.com
Links golf in the heart of Dublin Bay. Low fairways ripple constantly and the routing takes on the full force of the wind. It may not be long but it does require your A game.
VERDICT: A smart and very accessible links with an intriguing clubhouse. (Same)
78 DUN LAOGHAIRE www.dunlaoghairegolfclub.ie
A reduction in bunker numbers and a smart tree management programme has shaken things up at Dun Laoghaire, in recent times. It has allowed the three nines to breathe more easily, thereby offering more enjoyment to golfers as they play across the gentle hillsides.
VERDICT: Condition is always top notch, as are the facilities. (Same)
77 CASTLEMARTYR www.castlemartyrresort.ie
Still young, the Ron Kirby-designed Castlemartyr is wrapped up with a five-star resort. There’s an inland-links type feel and a languid rhythm and that is being enhanced through a rebunkering programme.
VERDICT: A resort that puts golf front and centre. (Same)
76 MOYVALLEY www.moyvalleygolf.com
A modern course of open spaces and easy rhythm, with impressive facilities. It’s almost hypnotic and big greens make tantalising targets. The course condition has slipped, however, as has its ranking.
VERDICT: An inland-links feel with a powerful finish. (⇓2)
75 FARNHAM ESTATE www.farnhamestate.com
One of Ireland’s youngest courses (2008) Farnham offers an interesting mix of holes. Starting with an open landscape of big trees, it switches into forest mode on the higher back nine.
VERDICT: A new clubhouse (2019) means this parkland package is almost complete.(Same)
74 THE HERITAGE www.heritageresort.ie
A gem of a course but conditioning at this Seve Ballesteros-designed course has not been of the usual high standards. We look forward to improvements to a smartly routed course with velvet greens.
VERDICT: The only Seve Ballesteros course in Ireland and a compelling one at that. (⇓1)
73 TULFARRIS www.tulfarrisgolfclub.com
The considerable investment in this course continues to bear fruit as Tulfarris rises again. The course flows sweetly and beautifully around Blessington Lakes. Host venue to the Prem Group EuroPro Tour Irish Masters.
VERDICT: Parkland or lakeland? A perfect mix of the two. (⇑3)
72 GALWAY www.galwaygolf.com
Alister MacKenzie used a hillside above Galway Bay to peg out tees and greens in the 1920s. The course may have evolved since then but MacKenzie’s vision remains at Galway’s heart.
VERDICT: A sparkling parkland where accuracy is required. (⇓3)
71 ARKLOW www.arklowgolflinks.com
A lovely links on the outskirts of Arklow town. The dunes aren’t big but holes are easily crafted and routed naturally between them. Fine bunkering complements the considerable recent investment.
VERDICT: A little known links with a big heart. (⇑1)
70 ESKER HILLS www.eskerhillsgolf.com
There is nothing quite like Esker Hills. The erupting landscape tosses you about all day as holes cavort over and through the mighty eskers. Shane Lowry is their favourite son.
VERDICT: Wonderful, adventurous golf and as welcoming a clubhouse as you could ask for. (Same)
69 GRANGE www.grangegc.com
There are big plans in place for Grange, with McGinley Golf Course Design at the helm. We eagerly await these developments at one of Dublin’s most formidable parklands.
VERDICT: A strong variety of holes with a James Braid heritage. (⇓2)
68 DINGLE www.dinglelinks.com
Its remoteness means Dingle is often ignored but a further rise signifies its growing reputation and an upgrade programme already in full flow. It is smartly laid out with holes routed in every direction and a burn constantly influencing play.
VERDICT: A strong links test and located in one of Ireland’s beauty spots. (⇑3)
67 WESTPORT www.westportgolfclub.ie
A beautiful setting below Croagh Patrick makes Westport one of those dramatic days out and the golf is equally as good. From the 7th on, the course promises a rollercoaster of thrills that brings you to the glorious stretch (from 12 to 15) beside the water.
VERDICT: A seaside parkland with an exciting, dramatic back nine. (⇓1)
66 PALMERSTOWN HOUSE ESTATE www.palmerstownhouse.ie
Palmerstown House Estate has long been lauded for its scale which stretches over a vast estate of water features, flowerbeds, colourful touches and strong individuality. Improvements underway which will make a big difference, watch this space.
VERDICT: A big parkland with fearsome par fives. (⇑2)
65 BUNCLODY www.bunclodygfc.ie
This Jeff Howes-designed parkland combines two landscape types: the rapidly maturing open spaces; and the magnificent mature avenues that inexorably lead down to the River Slaney and that famous lift.
VERDICT: A well maintained parkland which is maturing impressively. Excellent facilities.(Same)
64 CASTLE www.castlegc.ie
The strength of one of Dublin’s top suburban parklands comes from a fluid rhythm rolling through dark tree-lined avenues. It’s like a heartbeat and the bunker restoration work has enhanced the tempo.
VERDICT: Dublin City’s top-rated parkland and always in superb condition. (Same)
63 ROSSLARE www.rosslaregolf.com
Tucked away in Ireland’s south east corner, Rosslare has some sensational links holes cavorting through low to medium sized dunes which come into their own closest to the sea.
VERDICT: Smart golf required on an understated links. (Same)
62 HOGS HEAD www.hogsheadgolfclub.com
The location of Hogs Head is captivating and the design work of Robert Trent Jones Junior has created something very different. Holes flow over an exposed, rolling headland promising dramatic sea and mountain vistas outside Waterville.
VERDICT: A headland adventure with some entertaining quirks. (Same)
61 NEW FOREST www.newforest.ie
New ownership helped this old estate parkland improve its reputation some years ago, yet it still remains below the radar. There are wild marshes alongside pristine fairways and this club provides comprehensive facilities including lodging.
VERDICT: A modern, unheralded parkland with big holes & thrills. (Same)
60 RATHSALLAGH www.rathsallaghgolf.com
Re-opened four years ago, this calm and peaceful parkland course introduced a new routing and a new par three to enhance the layout and the course’s playability.
VERDICT: A parkland back to its best and bristling with confidence. (Same)
59 ROYAL BELFAST www.royalbelfast.com
Old school that’s Royal Belfast for you. Its design harks back to the great Harry Colt. This is pristine, tumbling parkland on the shores of Belfast Lough.
VERDICT: Rivals Royal Curragh for Ôthe oldest’ golf club in Ireland title. (Same)
58 CONCRA WOOD www.concrawood.ie
Concra Wood hosted the Irish Challenge in 2018, emphasising the quality of this beautiful course on the shores of Lough Muckno. A big modern parkland with stunning lakeside views, with more elevation changes than you can imagine.
VERDICT: A big, quality parkland with endless lakeside thrills. (Same)
57 K CLUB (PALMER SOUTH) www.kclub.ie
A course of big, hypnotic shapes with its own clubhouse and smart routing, not to mention a fabulous closing stretch where water is constantly in play, the Palmer South is an intriguing Arnold Palmer creation.
VERDICT: A hypnotic foil to the Palmer North course. (⇓1)
56 THE HERMITAGE www.hermitagegolf.ie
Renowned as it may be for the quality of its greens, Hermitage’s rebunkering programme concluded in 2020, and it has been a resounding success. Its heaving landscape and parkland maturity date back to 1905.
VERDICT: A strong and sweet parkland close to Dublin City. (⇑1)
55 DROMOLAND CASTLE www.dromolandgolf.com
This elegant estate parkland is big and beautiful, and wrapped around one of the classiest (castle) hotels we have. The course takes off from the par three 7th, and thunders over the rolling terrain all the way home.
VERDICT: Serious parkland golf that starts steady and then proves unstoppable. (Same)
54 CARTON HOUSE (O’MEARA) www.cartonhouse.com
The second of Carton House’s courses, O’Meara enjoys a meandering spacious landscape watched over by mature trees before those holes by the River Rye deliver an adrenaline rush.
VERDICT: Part of an exceptional golfing package. (Same)
53 TULLAMORE www.tullamoregolfclub.ie
James Braid created this beauty and it stands to his ingenuity that the routing and shape of holes test the golfer in so many ways. Trees will taunt you all day long. A parkland that embraces its classic parkland roots almost as much as it embraces the trees.
VERDICT: Parkland in the best tradition with stunning greens. (⇓1)
52 KILLARNEY (KILLEEN) www.killarneygolfclub.ie
This big muscular parkland boasts a beautiful setting. Lough Leane and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks offer a stunning backdrop to most holes while the deer are ever-present. Some glorious holes scattered throughout.
VERDICT: An enchanting setting for a super parkland course. (⇓1)
51 POWERSCOURT (WEST) www.powerscourtgolfclub.com
Between East vs West courses, we believe the West takes the title with its strong routing, excellent use of the land and some of the best greens in the country. It only drops due to investments at clubs above it.
VERDICT: The West’s terrain has lent itself to a creative, fluid and thrilling parkland. (⇓2)
50 BALLYBUNION (CASHEN) www.ballybuniongolfclub.com
A course that always divides opinion, the Cashen plays over even more impressive dunes than the Old links, with its closing stretch high above the beach and offering the biggest thrills of the round much like the Old.
VERDICT: A seriously big links experience… but with a difference. (⇓2)
49 ARDGLASS www.ardglassgolfclub.com
The upgrades across the course are starting to bear fruit and ensure that Ardglass is still rising up the rankings. This is one of the most exhilarating (clifftop) starts on the island with the sea always in view. It also has the oldest clubhouse in the world.
VERDICT: This coastline paradise continues to be upgraded under Ken Kearney’s guidance.(⇑4)
48 GALGORM CASTLE www.galgormcastle.com
Most courses had a quiet 2020 but not Galgorm Castle, which came to the rescue of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. This easy-flowing parkland looked fabulous and was praised by the European Tour, the players and the media. The rhythm is idyllic as the course swings in two loops and embraces the rivers Braid and Main. A resort that never stops investing even now.
VERDICT: For amateurs, this lazy parkland promises a surprisingly relaxing round of golf.(⇑2)
47 PORTUMNA www.portumnagolfclub.ie
Portumna is parkland bliss through a lovely old estate of forest, stone, watchtowers and deer. It remains in our top 50 and if you’ve been lucky enough to play it, then you’ll know why it is where it is in our ranking. One of Ireland’s most under-rated courses.
VERDICT: A sparkling, little known parkland with a big heart and a tiny green fee. (Same)
46 BELVOIR PARK www.belvoirparkgolfclub.com
This Harry Colt parkland has stuck closely to its roots since the 1920s. Set on the outskirts of Belfast, it is a vibrant splash of green with mature tree-lined corridors (recently thinned) where golfers can swing freely but only if they think carefully.
VERDICT: A Harry Colt classic, as simple as that. (⇓1)
45 ROSAPENNA (OLD TOM MORRIS) www.rosapenna.ie
Old Tom Morris designed the original course but a brand new nine were added by Pat Ruddy in the late 2000s, to replace the inland holes. It sees the elegance and raw spirit of old school design mixed with more modern approaches.
VERDICT: A links mix of the very old with the very new. (⇑1)
44 LOUGH ERNE www.lougherneresort.com
The Faldo course is a big, swinging parkland, stretched between two loughs. You visit the water’s edge on several occasions with one fabulous par five up on a plateau high above the hotel, and a thrilling closing stretch that takes you right to the water’s edge.
VERDICT: Blissful lakeside golf. (⇓1)
43 GALWAY BAY www.galwaybaygolfresort.com
Galway Bay’s conditioning is exceptional and just seems to get better and better. It is unique, unexpected and beautiful, too if in a barren and windswept way. This has a links-like feel as holes tumble down to the sea in two shapely loops, with the sea almost always in view.
VERDICT: A unique experience, accessible for every level of golfer. (⇑1)
42 ROYAL PORTRUSH (VALLEY) www.royalportrushgolfclub.com
Mackenzie & Ebert added a new closing stretch after two of Valley’s best holes were snatched for the Dunluce’s enhancement. This has actually enhanced the reputation of this low, knotted links. It is a serious test of links discipline.
VERDICT: The second fiddle plays the sweetest links sonata. (Same)
41 MALONE www.malonegolfclub.co.uk
Malone starts strong from the opening drive and its rhythm between the dense trees is a core attribute of what’s on offer here. The back nine picks up the pace with a dramatic 27-acre lake. Excellent new practice facilities and upgraded holes/greens, which open this year, should see it rise up the rankings.
VERDICT: Perfect parkland rhythm at a venerable old club. (Same)
40 CASTLEROCK www.castlerockgc.co.uk
The refreshing and recent changes made by Martin Hawtree saw a sizeable bunker upgrade programme and two new greens added. Golfers who visit this crumpled, boisterous links do not leave disappointed. It has all the elements with big dunes, flatter open stretches and a sneaky burn.
VERDICT: A smart par 73 links of varying rhythm & a serious buzz. (Same)
39 HEADFORT (NEW) www.headfortgolfclub.ie
This Christy O’Connor Junior design is one of his most subtle, with holes routed around an old estate and embracing water features on a dozen holes. It is a big attractive parkland layout and after hosting the 2019 Challenge Tour, the profile of this 36-hole venue remains high.
VERDICT: A big, water-laced and colourful parkland that challenges and thrills constantly.(Same)
38 LUTTRELLSTOWN CASTLE www.luttrellstowncastle.com
Debates about Dublin’s best parkland may rage but Luttrellstown Castle remains the star attraction. This is a classic modern parkland with rivers and lakes laced across an old estate and big trees shepherding proceedings. There are no climbs here… unless you count climbing the stairs in one of the best clubhouses in Ireland. A return to the old routing has helped this course reclaim some of it’s original design characteristics and flow.
VERDICT: Elegant, muscular parkland with every flourish you could ask for. (⇓1)
37 DRUIDS GLEN www.druidsglenresort.com
The host of four Irish Opens promises enchanting colour, fabulous routing and more thrilling holes than you can shake your driver at. It also possesses the best set of par threes you’ll find. There are big plans in the pipeline to bring the course back to its former glory but it still remains one of the most entertaining rounds of golf you will play.
VERDICT: Sizzling colours and startling variety make this a must-play. (⇑1)
36 STRANDHILL www.strandhillgolfclub.com
Strandhill’s rise up the rankings has settled at 36 this year. The course’s recent upgrades Ð specifically the bunkering Ð has meant that one of our quirkiest links is attracting a lot more attention. The location, squeezed between two beaches and beneath Knocknaree Mountain, only adds to the course’s charms. Strandhill has no airs or graces, throwing one fine hole at you after another, and it is dominated by a central ridge from which holes slide down towards those two beaches. Holes 5, 6, 13 and 15 are outstanding.
VERDICT: A quirky and entertaining links with absolute attitude. (Same)
35 ROSAPENNA (SANDY HILLS) www.rosapenna.ie
Pat Ruddy has an ability to route courses and shape holes that demand the very best of golfers. Sandy Hills may be one of his best (The European Club excepted) and the rhythm he has found through Rosapenna’s biggest dunes is hypnotic. The location is stunning and you can breathe it in before teeing off as many holes dip down into the dunes before rising to greens where only pinpoint accuracy will leave you on the putting surfaces. This is tough golf that can leave you battered so be warned. It is part of a first-class golf complex.
VERDICT: A stern links test of sweet rhythm and a stunning setting. (Same)
34 CARTON HOUSE (MONTGOMERIE) www.cartonhouse.com
One of Ireland’s most intriguing creations, this is often referred to as an inland links. It certainly has some links-like attributes but a course such as this needs no comparisons Ð it is remarkable in its own right. The bunkering is ferocious, both in number and depth, although the fairway bunkers are being softened to make it more playable. The green complexes are superbly shaped. Somewhat open and barren, the rhythm and shapeliness of the course is mesmerising. We await the updated bunkering.
VERDICT: An open, devious parkland that unashamedly falls into the love/hate bracket. (⇓2)
33 CARLOW www.carlowgolfclub.ie
Carlow’s design has changed little in almost 100 years allowing the acclaimed work of Tom Simpson and Molly Gourlay to shine. It is easy to say that because the course has evolved little it can’t reach the heady heights of the top-rated parklands but that is to miss the beauty of the designers’ work. Holes are wrapped and routed superbly around a central hill with so much shape that every facet of your game is challenged constantly. The turf is also sublime with the course playable all year round.
VERDICT: Underappreciated parkland/heathland classic with a tree management programme underway. (⇑1)
32 CORK www.corkgolfclub.ie
The hand of the legendary Alister MacKenzie helped craft this remarkable course on Little Island, outside Cork City. There’s no question that the famed quarry holes remain the club’s signature Ð along with Seve’s Spanish Chestnut tree Ð and these thrills are out of sight of the clubhouse, down near the peaceful waters of Cork Harbour. The club has done significant recent clearing work to open up the quarry, making these holes far more dramatic. That work continues.
VERDICT: A parkland of many different elements but all of quality. (⇑1)
31 FOTA ISLAND www.fotaisland.ie
You’re playing golf on an island and while it might not feel like you’ve crossed over water to reach this quality 27-hole resort, you will certainly discover you’re playing through an arboretum. That’s the charm of Fota. The course has held the Irish Open three times so you’ll be playing a quality parkland that always keeps things interesting. The slopes, the natural water features, the green locations all contribute to a charming round of golf that is both thrilling and accessible for all. The courses above Fota have been pursuing specific developments which explains the three place drop.
VERDICT: An Irish Open venue with oodles of colour and charm. (⇓3)
30 NARIN & PORTNOO www.narinandportnoolinks.com
The Gil Hanse-renovated Narin & Portnoo opened in 2020. New holes, new greens, and some new routing will give this links a sharp new look. The Irish Golfer panel has not seen the course in depth so it remains in the same position as last year. Much of it is wild and natural and the run of five holes starting on the (new) 7th will remain one of the best sequences in the country. They take you to the ocean’s very edge. The links has also changed from a par of 73 to 70, with three new par threes being added.
VERDICT: A wild links adventure with several absolute thrillers. (Same)
29 OLD HEAD www.oldhead.com
Old Head offers a golfing experience like no other and its constant improvements see it receive a lovely upward bump in 2021. Three-hundred-foot cliffs jutting out into the ocean will do that but so will the immaculate conditioning and the way golfers are looked after from the moment they arrive. This is glamour golf at its best and the elegant, generous design makes it a course anyone can play. That’s assuming you can handle the drama of the clifftop holes, of which there are nine. Old Head boasts a world-class, bucket list attraction and it remains top of the list for many golfers.
VERDICT: A startling and unique clifftop golf experience. (⇑2)
28 CONNEMARA www.connemaragolflinks.com
The backdrop of the Twelve Bens on one front and the Atlantic Ocean on the other has always given Connemara a mystical quality. Throw in some of Connemara’s fabled rocky beauty and it can feel almost lunar. It gives this 27-hole club a unique links feel and one that is so evident on arrival. Designed by Eddie Hackett, holes are therefore as natural as can be, using the low running front nine to set the scene before the more shapely back nine throws in some sucker punches. Recent and continuing improvements see it nudge upwards again.
VERDICT: A links of lunar-like appearance with a smashing back nine. (⇑1)
27 DONEGAL www.donegalgolfclub.ie
Donegal’s reputation stems from the remarkable piece of links land over which it flows. Designed originally by Eddie Hackett, with Pat Ruddy updating it, this links stretches over a wide area surrounded by mountains, forest and sea. To that end it creates a lazy flow that lulls golfers under its spell and most who come here leave utterly charmed by the experience. The course does, however, require your full attention for its par 73 means it can play long and the stretch of holes, from 5 to 11, is utterly devious as well as one of the best in the country.
VERDICT: A dramatic, spacious links which will charm everyone. (⇓1)
26 MOUNT JULIET www.mountjuliet.com
The 2021 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will play over this famous Jack Nicklaus-designed parkland. It has hosted big events before but this will undoubtedly put the course back in the spotlight, so expect glamour and style and finesse in abundance. The course coasts through an estate of towering trees with a grace that makes playing here an absolute joy. Despite the water features it is not overly challenging… rather it is welcoming and designed for your enjoyment. Put it this way, can you point us towards a golfer who has left Mount Juliet in a bad mood? We didn’t think so.
VERDICT: Jack Nicklaus designed it just about everybody wants to play it. (⇓1)
25 KILLEEN CASTLE www.killeencastle.com
Killeen Castle boasts Ireland’s biggest expanse of land for a golf course. It’s hard to argue with that when you rarely see another hole, let alone another golfer on this Jack Nicklaus- designed parkland. The castle which looms over the understated clubhouse is a spectacular sight and both it and the course are on show as you drive into the old estate. It is some introduction to a powerful parkland that can be generous off the tee but far more demanding on approach. Nicklaus likes to create dramatic green complexes and you’ll find plenty of that here. Every parkland attribute you could ask for.
VERDICT: All the shapes and quality you’d expect from a Jack Nicklaus course. (⇓1)
24 DOOKS www.dooks.com
There are few more beautiful places to play golf in Ireland Ð possibly anywhere Ð than Dooks. Surrounded by bays, sea and endless mountains, this is a wildly natural links set over heaving terrain which drops down to the water’s edge. And yet it is open and playable. Dooks’ reputation continues to rise with their greens receiving particular praise and such a reputation sees it rising an impressive three spots. This a fine and fun course, and one of our most welcoming.
VERDICT: A natural, thrilling links in a bucolic Irish setting. A bright future beckons. (⇑3)
23 PORTMARNOCK HOTEL & GOLF LINKS www.portmarnock.com
Often referred to as the Bernhard Langer designed course to differentiate it from the original Portmarnock Ð Portmarnock Links has a wonderfully chaotic and bumpy links terrain which is quite different to its immediate neighbour. Host of this year’s Irish Challenge, the heart of the course is more crumpled and while it is smoother inland, you can always see what awaits. It is a tempting sight. The resort’s recent multi-million investment has added finesse to the course (and the hotel) especially the bunkering and paths, as well as a new short game area. Super greens.
VERDICT: A high quality links resort with Dublin on its doorstep. (Same)
22 PGA NATIONAL IRELAND SLIEVE RUSSELL www.slieverussell.ie
PGA National Ireland Slieve Russell hovers just beneath the radar certainly in the south of the country Ð but deserves its high position not to mention its PGA National designation. Perhaps the high ranking will help this stunning parkland shine more brightly. The course has everything a lover of parkland golf could ask for and that’s all thanks to designer Paddy Merrigan. The tossing, tree-lined landscape uses Lough Rud as its focal point and there is a perfect rhythm to the momentum of holes as golfers are constantly enthralled. Through thick and thin this course has remained in excellent condition.
VERDICT: A parkland beauty and a Ômust play’ for 2021. (Same)
21 ROYAL DUBLIN www.theroyaldublingolfclub.com
Royal Dublin’s rich, illustrious history showcases the development of golf in Ireland, never mind the development of Bull Island on which it (and St Anne’s) is located. This is low-lying links in a classic out-and- back routing where golfers will benefit from the wind for nine holes and battle it for the remainder. Therein lies the brilliance of its layout but there is more to Royal Dublin than that with its deep rough and its intelligent bunkering. This is a place where strategy and bump-and-run rule.
VERDICT: A classic low links and a stern challenge. (⇓1)
20 BALLYLIFFIN (OLD) www.ballyliffingolfclub.com
The Old course at Ballyliffin glides over lower rumpled terrain and presses up hard to the sea’s edge on the back nine. The Glashedy may dominate much of the higher more boisterous ground but the quality of the Old’s turf is equally outstanding and choosing between them offers a dilemma. What the Old has in its favour is the sparkling run of holes beside the sea starting at the 14th, and it promises a thrilling run for home. The new nine-hole par-3 Pollan course adds some extra flavour.
VERDICT: A modern links with a lovely old crumpled feel. (⇑1)
19 PORTSTEWART (STRAND) www.portstewartgc.co.uk
Portstewart’s reputation continues to rise after the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open visited this northern coastline in 2017. It certainly solidified the claim that this course boasts the best front nine on the island. From its stunning opening tee shot and holes cascading through the famed dunes of Thistly Hollow, this is a remarkable golfing adventure. The closing section of the course is more sedate but there are still many entertaining shots to be played.
VERDICT: A stunning links that kicks off on steroids. (Same)
18 PORTSALON www.portsalongolfclub.ie
Portsalon’s reputation was strengthened when Paul McGinley helped to upgrade this lesser-known Irish links wonder in recent years. The setting on Lough Swilly is magnificent and much of the front nine runs riot through rugged dunes above Ballymastocker Strand. And yet Portsalon has a natural feel that is striking. Two double greens emphasise how the terrain has been so cleverly used and this extends across the course, even to the more inland holes. And the 2nd is outstanding.
VERDICT: A links of natural power and beauty, as well as one of the best holes in the country. (Same)
17 K CLUB (PALMER NORTH) www.kclub.ie
It is little wonder that the Palmer North course still leans on the glory of hosting the 2006 Ryder Cup. It was a stunning victory for Europe and it showcased one of Ireland’s leading parklands to a global audience. There have not been any significant changes to Arnold Palmer’s design Ð the course recently returned to its original routing Ð nor do there need to be. This is a big modern course with all the facilities, colour and finesse that such a parkland entails. And it is accessible to all with big fairways, sweeping greens and the promise of a captivating day of golf.
VERDICT: Ireland’s famous parkland is full of colour and rhythm. (⇓1)
16 TRUMP INTERNATIONAL DOONBEG www.trumphotels.com/ireland
The upgrades by Martin Hawtree have settled in well and the 18 new greens offer some dazzling putting surfaces. The overall quality of Doonbeg continues to shine and the addition of the new par three 14th has not affected the flow of this links one bit. Little wonder that with so many impressive holes its stock remains high. The course slides elegantly through the dunes for almost two miles above Doughmore Strand, reaching the 9th green at the farthest point.
VERDICT: A modern, big-scale links with a five-star experience. (⇑1)
15 CARNE www.carnegolflinks.com
Of all of Ireland’s links, Carne is the biggest. The terrain is practically mountainous but the soul of this course lies in the raw, natural routing that takes you down into deep hollows and up and over dunes that can rise 500 feet above sea level. When Eddie Hackett designed Carne, he let the land guide him (as was his way) and that has given the course its beauty and charm, as well as its many challenges. Some holes simply defy the imagination. The big news in 2020 was that the club combined Hackett’s back nine with the newer Kilmore nine, to create the Wild Atlantic Dunes course. This means it is even bigger and more explosive than before.
VERDICT: The biggest links you will ever play. (Same)
14 BALLYLIFFIN (GLASHEDY) www.ballyliffingolfclub.com
Pat Ruddy’s influence on Irish golf runs deep and Glashedy is his highest profile creation (after The European Club, of course). That profile rose further with the hugely successful 2018 Irish Open. The routing is done to perfection, allowing both nines to visit the biggest dunes on the property. These include the par three 5th and 14th which present tee boxes above greens and the startling backdrop of Glashedy Rock beyond. It is cleverly done. This is tougher than its Old course sibling because subtle doglegs and tight greenside bunkering make accuracy essential.
VERDICT: Home to the 2018 Irish Open, this is a stunning links. (Same)
13 ENNISCRONE www.enniscronegolf.com
Enniscrone celebrated its centenary in 2018. It was a major landmark for a club which is always in exceptional condition and is superseded only by Royal County Down when it comes to blind shots. The changes made by Donald Steel in 2001 took the course to a whole new level and it’s now banging on the door of Ireland’s Top 10. Rightfully so, too, with the much lauded back nine stretching out to Killala Bay and holes 12 and 13 being of the quirky, blind and captivating variety. Bring your A game and a thumping short game because nothing less will do.
VERDICT: Links of big dunes. Big holes and quirky holes make Enniscrone a must-play.(Same)
12 COUNTY SLIGO www.countysligogolfclub.ie
This is a Harry Colt classic with recent updates by Pat Ruddy. Co. Sligo is a course of different rhythms and different styles of holes, and this is determined by the fluctuating terrain over which it roams. The variety is astonishing but also hugely appealing as there’s always something new to consider when you step onto the tee. Greens are fabulous and given the exposed nature of many holes, approaching them with low shots may prove beneficial.
VERDICT: A Harry Colt classic links of constant variety. (Same)
11 THE EUROPEAN CLUB www.theeuropeanclub.com
The European Club’s routing remains superb, building to a crescendo in the middle of the back nine where the holes almost touch the sea. The course has become far more playable in recent years and the once polarising bunkers have settled in beautifully with the onset of age; natural grasses now protrude from the railway sleeper faces. There are fantastic dunes at Brittas Bay and even better golf holes.
VERDICT: A unique golf course that should be celebrated for offering a modern take. Comes with drama in buckets. (Same)
10 WATERVILLE www.watervillegolflinks.ie
Waterville’s location is irresistible as is playing this most rhythmic and picture-perfect course. Links golf doesn’t get more attractive than this. There are no climbs here yet the landscape always moves and twists you across a terrain that feels as if it could serve no other purpose than to host a golf course. The rough, the grasses, the dunes are all indescribably beautiful. The Inny estuary embraces one side of the course while the wild seas of the Atlantic press up against the other, where the renowned three closing holes streak back to the recently refurbished clubhouse.
VERDICT: Ireland’s most picture-perfect links. Utterly enchanting. (Same)
9 THE ISLAND www.theislandgolfclub.ie
The Island opened its new front nine in the middle of 2020. The work by Martin Ebert has yet to be properly assessed by the panel but with two new holes and the club’s ambition to make the front nine every bit as good as the back, you can expect a lot of discussion about the changes in the years ahead. This is a magnificently entertaining links which was a recent qualifying venue for The Open Championship, as well as a host course for the 2019 Amateur Championship. That tells you just how good it is. There is constant variety in shape and length and challenge, and that back nine takes some beating.
VERDICT: An ever-improving links of stunning variety… be sure to check out the changes.(Same)
8 TRALEE www.traleegolfclub.com
An unfortunate fall for Tralee as Ballybunion edges higher, especially as the Barrow course has introduced new facilities and a six-hole par three course, while also implementing a longer-term plan. It may possess one of Ireland’s best back nines but the daring front nine is too often overlooked… and this is where the investment efforts are now being targeted. Designed by Palmer and Seay in the 1980s, unforgettable holes abound, including 2, 3, 8, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17. They really are that good. So too is the location which is devastatingly beautiful. It sets the heart racing.
VERDICT: A cathedral of dunes in the Kingdom. (⇓1)
7 BALLYBUNION (OLD) www.ballybuniongolfclub.com
Ballybunion continues its upwards climb, moving up one place after a fall two years ago. Quality, as they say, will out and after upgrading their greens in 2016, Ballybunion has proved that. It was a huge success, as was the addition of a new 7th green and the new 18th. Ballybunion is widely regarded as the most natural links golf course anywhere, and certainly the most natural with such towering dunes. These dunes, such is their shape, have created perfect doglegs, high tees and magical green settings, some set in bowls, some set on plateaus, still others protected by sentry dunes. And yet there are no blind shots. Expect its rise to continue despite the brilliance of the courses above it.
VERDICT: A slice of links heaven here on Earth. One for the bucket list. (⇑1)
6 COUNTY LOUTH www.countylouthgolfclub.com
Not many courses can lay claim to one of the best stretches of holes in the country… yet Baltray boasts two: the 3rd to 7th and the 12th to 16th reign supreme, the strategies and intricacies around Tom Simpson’s greens opening up a myriad of choice and opportunity. On account of a few of the inland holes, some feel it lacks the wow factor but this is to miss the essence of the links: The layout is a purist’s delight, its subtleties revealing themselves a little more with each play. It’s not short of quirk either, with small undulating greens and the occasional scary, blind shot.
VERDICT: Worthy of its place amongst the best in the country. A links lover’s delight. (Same)
5 THE GOLF COURSE AT ADARE MANOR www.adaremanor.com
Adare has settled into its fifth spot in our rankings and remains comfortably Ireland’s top parkland. It sits in exalted company, among some of the world’s best links courses, and being awarded the 2027 Ryder Cup has certainly given the resort some major bragging rights. The routing of Adare remains the same as the old but everything else changed following Fazio’s redesign. One eye-watering statistic is this: 200,000 tonnes of sand were used on the course 64,000 tonnes went beneath the rough; and sand nine inches deep went under every fairway, increasing to twelve inches under every green. Each of the 82 new tee boxes are hand mown. Discussions about Adare’s course condition tend to be of the breathless variety, with sub-air technology raising pulses but a course can’t survive on conditioning alone. There needs to be more and re-designed by Tom Fazio, Adare is something truly remarkable. It is hypnotic in its rhythm with raised greens and their vast aprons of run-offs catching the eye time and again. They are dazzling targets. The bunkering is bright and unmissable, framing fairway corridors and threatening constantly around greens. It may be easier to be in a bunker than to run the gauntlet of those aprons which can sweep your ball 30 yards away. And yet its playability is one of Adare’s great strengths. There is no rough to speak of and with thousands of trees removed, you should always be able to access greens.
VERDICT: The most remarkable upgrade imaginable. Ireland’s top parkland of yesteryear is back and better than ever. (Same)
4 ROYAL COUNTY DOWN www.royalcountydown.org
Royal County Down (RCD) has often been recognised as the best course in the world, let alone best in Ireland, so its ranking of fourth in our list will continue to surprise some. There’s no question that RCD is one of the world’s greatest golf experiences Ð it is unlike anything on the planet with those heaving, gorse-drenched dunes and bearded bunkers Ð but where it faltered in our rankings was in its playability. The great Jack Nicklaus felt there were too many blind shots and they are severe ones at that. Combined with those bunkers and some fairways that can treat you harshly with their deflections, it makes RCD a stern test for even the best players. It is not therefore as playable as the courses ranked above it. The three links above it have also upped their game massively in recent years. For many, though, RCD remains the ultimate, adrenaline-fuelled links with a heritage that embraces Old Tom Morris and a landscape that has been played over since 1889. Those blind shots are what many golfers remember most but this stretch of tumultuous links land is home to superb green settings, many of them nestled down low. The greens themselves roll like velvet and are oh so quick. The entirety of the holes, the perfect framing of wild rough, heather and gorse, and the strategic options available make RCD the epitome of a bucket list destination and always will do.
VERDICT: Quite simply the most explosive links experience in the world. (Same)
3 LAHINCH www.lahinchgolf.com
Lahinch is one of the most perfectly balanced links you’ll find. Never mind that dune system over and through which it plays, Lahinch is blessed with a tempo that practically sings. The ridge of big dunes that hosts the front nine and press up to the sea heave in every direction creating sublime channels for holes to flow between. Such natural routing presents a layout where wind tests golfers from every angle but also accommodates some blind shots and fabulous quirks (The Dell, most notably). Farther inland, where the dunes are more subdued, the back nine are no different: perfect routing takes you to startlingly natural green sites. Indeed, the back nine demand more guile from the golfer, especially on approaches. What Old Tom Morris started, Gibson advanced, MacKenzie reimagined and Hawtree restored is now recognised as one of the world’s greatest links. Alister MacKenzie’s name looms largest, but Hawtree deserves plaudits for his restoration of MacKenzie’s original vision. He rebuilt green sites, updated the bunkering for the modern age and added two new par threes. He also pushed greens out to the ocean’s edge to enhance the links experience. These changes and particularly his new bunkering to challenge the modern golfer have benefitted the club hugely. In an age when links courses have little room to expand, Hawtree found other ways to promote Lahinch’s challenges. As anyone who has played here will tell you, Lahinch just gets better and better.
VERDICT: A restored classic links with a perfect tempo. (Same)
2 PORTMARNOCK www.portmarnockgolfclub.ie
Portmarnock was our first number one but the mighty Royal Portrush refuses to relinquish its position, which means Portmarnock remains in second place. Portmarnock and the word Ôsubtlety’ go hand in glove. While some visitors will miss the nuances of this wonderful terrain on a single visit, others understand the immense reward it gives on repeat plays, revealing its strategies slowly and releasing its secrets only to those who persevere.
Nuances such as the deceptive ridges on holes 3, 13 and 17, and the blind tee shot on 5 add to the fun but it is the peerless routing that provides the bones for this exceptional championship layout. It’s worth noting that the skeleton of the course remains the same as when it was extended to 18 holes in 1896, the only significant addition being the famous one shot 15th along the water’s edge, introduced in the 1920s. Portmarnock is big, not in the sense of mountainous dunes but in the size of its greens and hole corridors. Yet never does it feel too large, the holes fit so perfectly into the landscape. Great holes they are too, with more than one famous writer believing that there is no greater finish in golf than the final five at Portmarnock. The condition of the course is also second to none, the fine turf allowing firm and fast surfaces that encourage the ground game and necessitate a thinking golfer’s approach.
VERDICT: Portmarnock remains as Ireland’s truest test of golf. It doesn’t put a blade of grass wrong. (Same)
1 ROYAL PORTRUSH www.royalportrushgolfclub.com
Given all the difficulties and restrictions of 2020, it is no surprise to see Royal Portrush retaining its pole position in the fourth Irish Golfer Top 100 rankings. With the hugely successful 2019 Open Championship still ringing in our ears (due in part to the ab.sence of an Open in 2020) it is only fitting that this links remains at the top. This is classic course design of the golden age – that pioneering age around the roaring twenties. Decidedly modern at the time, the best architects had started to build features rather than rely wholly on nature. Harry Colt was a virtuoso practitioner and, at Portrush, he created what remain the best set of greens in Ireland. Colt considered the Dunluce course his masterpiece and it’s easy to see why: the holes sweep elegantly through an undulating dune-scape, never so violent that the golf is compromised yet never so calm that one’s guard can be lowered. We all know the best of them, the 5th doglegging towards the sea and the long par three Calamity Corner being the most famous. But in truth, almost all of them are strong, beautifully following the land and taking the golfer on an adventure to each corner of the property.
The course often appears to be in a per.ennial battle with Royal County Down for the top spot in the North. Each offers a very different experience to the other but in the past, both were perceived to have a brace of weak finishing holes. In prepara.tion for the return of The Open Champion.ship, Portrush went out of its way to rectify the situation, its hand being forced by the requirement to commandeer the 17th and 18th for the tented village. In their place, two outstanding new holes abutting the Valley course have been brought in to the routing. These have become the 7th and 8th meaning the course now finishes on the original 16th. The visual appeal and challenge of the new holes have been an overwhelming success.
VERDICT: The most elegant design on the island retains the top spot. (Same)
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