It is a popular consensus that, barring a few exceptions, the greatest concentration of top class golf courses in the world resides within the shores of the UK & Ireland. Scotland and England are of course famous for being home to the nine courses that currently make up the Open Championship rota while Wales‘ South coast boasts an endless procession of stunning links courses and the likes of the Twenty Ten Course at The Celtic Manor. Ireland is also home to a number of amazing courses and epic golfing hotspots, namely the South West coast and the Northern coast of Northern Ireland, and its reputation as a leading global golfing destination has been further enhanced by the inclusion of no less than nine courses in Golf World’s list of “The Top 100 Courses You Can Play”, including the number one course on the list.
Royal County Down…the very best on offer in Ireland.
Royal County Down, near Newcastle, County Down, topped the rankings beating off competition from some of golf’s most iconic venues including American heavyweights Bandon Dunes and Pebble Beach; Scotland’s Turnberry; and Royal Lytham and St Annes, the host venue for last week’s Open Championship. Royal County Down’s neighbour, Royal Portrush ensured Northern Ireland made up 20 per cent of the top ten courses with a seventh-placed ranking. No wonder the recent Irish Open was so successful. After all…is there anything better for golf fans than seeing the best players in the world strutting their stuff on the world’s best golf courses?
Not to be outdone, Dublin and the east coast of Ireland were also well-represented in the Top 100. Portmarnock Old secured 33rd position – not bad for a course that has changed little since it was updated to an 18 hole course in 1896 – while The European Club and the lesser known County Louth Links followed close behind.
Rather predictably the links courses that adorn the south West coast of Ireland fared well as well with the likes of Waterville, Ballybunion, Lahinch and Doonbeg all making the grade. It is fair to say that each of these remarkable courses all deserve their place and should be firmly at the top end of many a golfer’s golfing bucket list but by our reckoning there are a few that have been overlooked, namely the stunning collection of links courses dotted around the rugged North west corner of the Emerald Isle.
Waterville is just one in a procession of world class golf courses that adorn the South West coast of Ireland.
The North West has long been overlooked by golfers looking to enjoy a slice of Irish Golf, which is not entirely baffling considering the sheer quality and notoriety of the courses in other parts of the country, but thanks to improvements in infrastructure and travel links, counties including Donegal and Sligo are more accessible than ever and are also home to a number of world class golf courses that would make it onto our list of Top 100 golf courses you can play.
If you’re itching for some golf on the Emerald Isle be sure to try something new and visit the North West. Here’s what you should be aiming for…
Ballyliffin is Ireland’s northernmost golf club, and while its two golf courses may differ greatly in character, they are both of outstanding quality. Diving into the car park at Ballyliffin, you are presented with views out over a sea of immense dunes that define the two courses, the Glashedy and the Old, and you immediately know you are in for something special.
The Old Course is links golf at its purest, as the sandy fairways wind through the natural sand dunes. Though not long, the dramatic undulations inherent to the land make it quirky and unpredictable, but moreover they make the Old Course incredibly enjoyable. While this course will thrill one and all, those who struggle with length from the tee will be more at home on the Old.
Ballyliffin is home to two of the finest links courses in Ireland.
The Glashedy on the other hand is a real monster. Measuring in excess of 7,200 yards from the plates, this course demands long and accurate tee shots in order to hit your fair share of greens in regulation because while the rough is not overly punishing when compared with other classic links courses, it is plenty long enough to see you playing out sideways to the safety of the fairway!
Both courses present the golfer with awe inspiring hole after awe inspiring hole and the conditioning of each is second to none. Like any true links course, both the Glashedy and the Old will require you to hit almost every club in the bag and almost every type of shot under the sun. This is links golf at is very best and I get the feeling that if these courses, the Glashedy in particular, were situated down in the famous South West region it would be celebrated just as much as the likes of Ballybunion and co.
Just a short drive down the coast you will find Rosapenna which, like Ballyliffin, is home to two excellent links courses, one of which will offer a challenge so great that even the best players will have to bring their A game to score well!
Rosapenna boasts two fantastic links courses that each has its own unique character. Golfers of all abilities will find a challenge here.
Rosapenna’s original layout, the Old Tom Morris Course, was opened in 1891and as well as Old Tom, Harry Vardon and James Braid also had a say in the outstanding layout that still exists today. With some 15 Open Championship titles between the three contributors, it should come as no surprise that the Old Tom Morris course is one of the finest in the north-west region. The greens are undoubtedly the highlight of the course, with Morris deeming the existing land so good that he only built 3 of the greens; all fifteen of the others are exactly as the land dictated.
While the Old Tom Morris Course skirts the edge of the immense dunes that dominate the North West coast of Ireland, the newer and more challenging Sandy Hills Course cuts its path right through the giant sandhills. Mind boggling undulations mean that even the most purely struck drives may find an awkward lie or even the first cut of rough, ensuring golfers stay focused from start to finish. Those who enjoy a real golfing challenge will love Sandy Hills while those who prefer to play a more relaxing yet still challenging layout will be more at home on the Old Tom Morris track.
Founded in 1894, Co. Sligo is home to one of the most famous links courses in the country. Not far from the town of Sligo is Rosses Point; a spectacular promontory that juts out into the sea off Ireland’s west coast. A more idyllic setting for a true links course is tough to imagine with panoramic views to die for that can be enjoyed from all over the course, particularly from the raised 3rd tee.
Fairways are firm and fast and well placed pot bunkers, many of which are of the devilish pot variety, encourage players to think their way around the course rather than simply employing a grip it and rip it style of play. But it is on and around the greens where you will make or break your score. Sweeping undulations are couple with more subtle breaks on the flatter parts of the greens, many of which are shaped like an upturned saucer making accurate approach play a must.
During your round at County Sligo you may find it tough to concentrate thanks to the spectacular views that can be enjoyed from all over the course.
The front nine is enjoyable enough but it is the back nine, where the course starts to move down toward and along the coastline, where County Sligo gets really special. The par 5 12th for example hugs the coastline and plays out towards the very edge of the stunning promontory on which the course sits.
The fact that Sligo has continued to be awarded the West of Ireland Championship, a tournament that a young Rory McIlroy won a few years back, shows that the course, in spite of its mature age, is still relevant today and can stand up to the recent advances in golfing technology. The quality of this Harry Colt design, in conjunction with the outstanding scenery of the surrounding seaside, make Co. Sligo an absolute must on any golf tour of the North West of Ireland.
Donegal Golf Club, more commonly known by the locals as Murvagh, is arguably the unsung hero of the North West. One of Darren Clarke’s favourite golf courses, Murvagh, like Co. Sligo, sits upon a dramatic promontory and thus is completely surrounded by water, owing to some spectacular views from various points on the course.
Like County Sligo, Donegal Golf Club sits on a remarkable piece of land that is almost entirely surrounded by water.
Although powerful hitting will be called upon when the wind gets up, it is accuracy and precise course management that will prove the most fruitful, especially on holes such as the signature par 3 5th, also known as the Valley of Tears. I have firsthand experience of why this name applies so well, as missing the green to the right, which of course I did, leaves you playing your 2nd from some 30 feet below the level of the green. Other stand out holes include the par 5 8th but it is the consistent quality of the holes around this course that make Murvagh an excellent inclusion on any North West Ireland Golf Tour.
Another bonus is that you will struggle to find a friendlier, more welcoming body of members and staff anywhere in the UK & Ireland!
Narin and Portnoo is a traditional Irish seaside course, where the views of Gwebarra Bay from the coastline are truly remarkable. Following a recent renovation the course is now a challenging par 73 layout that is sure to test every visitor from the weekend warrior to the more talented players out there.
Following recent developments, Narin & Portnoo now boasts a challenging yet enjoyable par 73 course.
Narin & Portnoo boasts all of the features that define a classic Irish links course. Its proximity to the sea provides great drama and the endless humps, bumps, hollows and swales along with huge dunes and nasty pot bunkers will call for good imagination and an array of shots to be played in order to score well. As with any links course, Narin’s exposure to the elements mean the course never plays the same twice which is part of the inherent charm of links golf. Top class greens and a warm welcome are simply added bonuses of a round at this fantastic course.
These five courses, special as they are, are not the only courses we recommend you visit during your next Irish Golf Tour. With the likes or Carne, Enniscrone, Connemara and more also on the menu and easily reachable from Derry Airport, or from ferry ports on the Irish coast, the North west is a true golfing goldmine that now that is benefitting from improved travel links will surely be held in the same high regard as the famed South West coast before too long.
With all that Ireland offers, from the rugged links to the tranquil surrounds of parkland classics such as Druids Glen and the K Club, the destination of your next golf break should be all but decided and if you think you have sampled all that the Emerald Isle has to offer then think again as hotspots such as the North West can and will provide you with plenty of pleasant surprises.
David Boyce, Tourism Ireland’s head of business and sports tourism, said: “In the past few weeks we have received glowing endorsements for our golf product on both sides of the Atlantic, via the Golf World and Golf Digest rankings.
“The Golf World poll also demonstrates how accessible our top courses are to visitors who want to come and experience playing world-class golf in a great environment.”
With some of the most famous venues across the globe, Ireland offers golfers the complete package with top championship courses, stunning scenery, fascinating history and some of the best craic around.
For more information on Irish Golf Breaks please visit www.yourgolftravel.com or call free on 0800 043 6644.