As the dust settles on a remarkable week’s golf at Pinehurst (congrats again Martin!), all eyes will be on Fota Island in County Cork as the Irish Open rolls into town. After all, without using Google, can anyone tell me what event is on on the PGA Tour this week? Didn’t think so…

Now…as well all know, Ireland is home to some of the very best golf courses in the world and, as you might expect, the Irish Open has visited quite a few of them. We at Your Golf Travel think ranking the courses in question would be unfair – after all beauty is in the eye of the beholder – so we thought we’d just pick ten of the best, no particular order, and give you guys a quick snapshot of them, leaving the ranking up to you while you’re on your next Irish Golf Holiday!

Fota Island

I suppose there’s no better place to kick this list off than at this year’s host course, the amazing Fota Island. Tucked away in a stunning 780 acre estate – the estate itself featured in “The Inventory of Outstanding Landscapes in Ireland“ – Fota Island actually boasts three golf courses but it is the Deerpark Course that will welcome Rory McIlroy & co later this week.


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Mature beyond its years, the Deerpark Course offers a relaxing test of picture-perfect parkland golf to visiting golfers. Generous fairways and light rough are common features which will appeal to us weekend warriors with the real test coming from seemingly ever-present water hazards, excellent bunkering and slick, multi-tiered greens. Expect the course to play tougher than it usually does when the cream of the crop on the European Tour come to town!

Carton House

Carton House hosted last year’s tournament and the quality of the Montgomerie Course here is highlighted by the fact that 2013 was in fact the third time the Irish Open had been staged at the Kildare resort.

Monty worked in conjunction with European Course Design when building his 7,300 yard brute at Carton House and, taking inspiration from the age old links courses from his homeland, the former Ryder Cup hero created what many describe as an inland links.


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Fairways are flanked by manmade humps and bumps (a substitute for the natural sand dunes you’d find at an actual links course) and great swathes of fescue grass, and with pot bunkers lurking at every turn, not to mention slick, sloping greens, your A game will be required to post a good score.

Chuffed with his creation at Carton House, Monty himself said: “This is a unique project and I am privileged to be associated with it. You can’t call it a links course, but it plays like a links and has all the characteristics of a links. In designing this course, I attempted to go back to a more traditional course.  I looked at the great courses around the world – Royal Melbourne, Troon, Turnberry – and worked out what is so good about them. One thing that springs to mind…bunkering. They are hazards and they work with the prevailing wind. Few holes are straight up and down the wind but tend to be across, which brings the bunkering into play. This is the kind of course where the best players would always come out on top”.

Royal Portrush

Royal Portrush hosted the 2012 Irish Open and in doing so smashed European Tour attendance records, proving itself as a more than capable tournament host. So much so in fact that it has now been named as a future Open Championship host, with the games oldest major championship heading for the Dunluce Links as early as 2019.

“Portrush stands on a rocky promontory that juts out into the Atlantic, and, if I may allude to such trivialities, the scenery of the coast is wonderfully striking.”


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Bernard Darwin was spot on with his assessment of Royal Portrush, which is one of the most spectacular links courses in the world. On the course you have to deal with world famous holes such as the par 3 14th, known by many as “Calamity”, while off the course, to the east, you have the White Rocks and tall limestone cliffs that lead to Dunluce Castle and the headlands of the Giant’s Causeway, as well as the hills of Inishowen, beyond which lie Portsalon and the links of Donegal to the west.

The Dunluce Links is a seriously tough cookie and without doubt one of the very best courses in the world. A must for any serious golfer.

Killarney

From the rough and ready surrounds of the County Antrim coastline, we head south to the tranquil surrounds of the Killarney National Park and Killarney Golf &Fishing Club which might just be one of the most beautiful places to play golf anywhere in the world.

Home to three golf courses, Killarney is an amazing place to enjoy a stay and play golf holiday but it is the Killeen Course we’re interested in here.

The course originally opened for play in 1972and since then Donald Steel has completed a complete reconstruction, including new greens, tees and bunkers as well as additional length, with the course reopening for play in the summer of 2006.


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Set on the banks of Lough Leane, the Killeen Course enjoys a truly spectacular backdrop with the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, which include Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland looming large in the background and offers a fantastic test of golf for all comers.

The Irish Open has been held here on no less than four occasions and, to borrow a phrase from Viscount Castlerosse, all golfers should come and “see what the Almighty can do when he is in a good mood.”

Portmarnock

Not to be confused with Bernhard Langer’s Portmarnock Links (also an excellent course), Portmarnock Golf Club is home to one of the most celebrated links courses in the country and has hosted Ireland’s national championship more than any other course.


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Situated on a peninsula on the north side of Dublin, the Championship Course at Portmarnock sits on land that was actually owned by the famous distiller, John Jameson, and was once used as his own private course. With this in mind, we feel that a hip flask is a mandatory part of a golfer’s equipment when taking to the course but don’t be too generous with the measures as the course is a tough nut to crack.

Utterly exposed to the elements, this layout is not for the faint-hearted; there are no tricks or nasty surprises here, but there are countless extremely challenging holes. Tall rough and undulating fairways are to be negotiated en route to the exquisite putting surfaces, which are guarded by cavernous pot bunkers and vast slopes and swails. Links golf at its best.


Reliving The Irish Open – Watch some of the highlights from Ireland’s flagship golf event down the years…


Druids Glen

Dubbed “The Augusta of Europe”, Druids Glen stands out from the pack and is one of the most picturesque golf courses in Ireland. Bursting with colour, the Glen Course at this 5* resort is a real cracker and hosted the Irish Open four times in a row with Spain’s Sergio Garcia winning last time out.

Stand out holes include Ireland’s own Amen Corner from the 12th to the 14th and nobody will forget teeing off on the 13th where players play over a huge Celtic cross made of flowers to a green far below the level of the tee.


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Unlike the hard and fast links courses Ireland is famous for, Druids Glen is all about target golf. Hit the perfectly manicured fairways and hitting the silky greens will be fairly straight forward. Miss the fairway however and this course can be a real brute. Water is a constant danger and with interesting elevation changes and excellent bunkering, club selection and course management are also important.

Pack the camera for this one!

Ballybunion

When it comes to the historical importance of the Old Course at Ballybunion, you could argue that this amazing links is to Ireland what St Andrews is to Scotland. It’s rather surprising then that the Irish Open has only been played here once.

Totally exposed to the elements, the Ballybunion Old Course is a thrill ride from start to finish, with towering dunes framing each hole and magnificent sea views distracting the player from the task in hand. If you’re a proficient golfer and the weather is being friendly, you have a chance at a good score. If not, then don’t fret when the bogies start to pile up. Simply buckle down and enjoy the ride!


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Tom Watson is a particular fan and after playing the Old Course he said: “After playing Ballybunion for the first time, a man would think that the game of golf originated here. There is a wild look to the place, the long grass covering the dunes that pitch and roll throughout the course making it very intimidating … in short, it is a course on which many golf architects should live and play before they build golf courses. I consider it a true test of golf.”

Coming from a 5 time Open Championship winner and master of links golf, this worth listening to!

Mount Juliet

As well as hosting the Irish Open three times, the quality of Mount Juliet’s course has been underlined by the fact that it also hosted the American Express World Golf Championships in 2004 as well as two years previously when Tiger Woods set a tournament record of 25 under par.


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Set in a picturesque parkland estate in County Kilkenny, Mount Juliet was designed by Jack Nicklaus and while it has a distinct American feel to it, that does not take away from what is a remarkable golf course and perhaps even the best inland course in Ireland. Grand old trees line each fairway and the River Nore cuts through the course, coming into play on a number of occasions, making course management (and a healthy stock of golf balls!) all important.

The course can test golfers of all abilities thanks to a selection of tee positions and when you’re done on the course, a putting competition on the practice putting green is a must…

18 holes, a par of 53 with bunkers and water hazards to contend with. Now that’s a putting green!

County Louth

For some reason County Louth, except among those with a good knowledge of Irish golf, is relatively unknown in comparison to the other courses on this list. And that is puzzling when you consider its undoubted quality. This is a proper links course and one of the best in the country.

Established in 1892, County Louth, or Baltray as it’s known by some, has enjoyed a prestigious history, hosting plenty of top level events including the East of Ireland Championship (won by Your Golf Travel Ambassador Darren Clarke in 1989) and of course the Irish Open in 2004 and 2009.


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It is hard to put a finger on a signature hole at Baltray but what the course does boast is an incredible depth of quality. There are no weak holes here, and with holes running in every direction throughout the round, golfers have to keep a constant eye on the direction of the wind.

County Louth’s true hall mark however is the quality of the greens which are arguably the best links greens in the country and with shrewdly designed runoff areas and the classic upturned saucer shape common throughout the course, your short game will have to be tidy if you want to score well.

Adare Manor

Upon first inspection of the parkland estate in which Adare Manor now sits, renowned course architect, Robert Trent Jones Snr was struck by the natural beauty of the landscape, so much so that it reminded him of Augusta National…high praise indeed!

Adare Manor is the last course designed by Trent Jones and he saved some of his best work for last. This is a parkland masterpiece that bears all of Trent Jones’s hallmarks – think cloverleaf bunkers, American style mounding and plenty of water – but at the heart of the layout is the 14-acre man-made lake that defines the front nine, coming into play, along with the River Maigue, throughout the round.


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There is plenty of beast to go with Adare’s beauty, with a total yardage of over 7,400 yards from the tips. Fear not though as the course boasts plenty of tee positions, allowing golfers of all shapes and sizes to have a crack at Trent Jones’s swansong. Particular highlights include the picturesque but treacherous par 3 11th and the amazing par 5 finishing hole which the designer considers to be the best closing hole in golf.

With the seemingly ever present water in mind, just be sure to pack enough golf balls to make it this far round!


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Rory

Rory

The resident golf geek at Your Golf Travel. Have been lucky enough to have travelled far and wide playing golf and if I’m not writing about it at work, you will probably find me hacking it around my local course. Owner of 2 holes in one and some of the most crooked drives you have ever seen! www.yourgolftravel.com/ygt-rory

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