With so many options in a relatively small patch of land, whittling down the options for your Ireland Golf Tour can be a bit if a headache.
Luckily, thanks to the perks of the job, I have been able to tick plenty of amazing Irish Golf Courses off my bucketlist and a few of them have made their way right to the business end of my list of favourite courses in the world. As they say though, beauty is in the eye of the beholder so not content with just offering my opinion, we’ve drafted in the help of Kevin Markham.
Author of Hooked, An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland, Kevin has played every single 18 hole course in the country…yes…you read that right…all 350 of them! So who better to offer their opinion on where you should tee it up on your Ireland Golf Holiday?!
With 5 picks each, myself and Kevin have offered up a total of 10 Irish Golf Courses we think all ardent golfers simply have to play before they kick the can. Whose list is better? We’ll let you guys be the judge of that…
Kevin – Royal County Down
The world’s best course? That all depends on your point of view. Some golfers fear/despise the blind shots here but this is classic, old school links with Old Tom Morris written all over it. And with the Mourne Mountains looming above and Dundrum Bay alongside, you’re assured of a dramatic and inspiring game.
Gorse and treacherous rough line fairways, so accuracy is paramount, and you’ll want to avoid the infamous bearded bunkers, too. It is not as difficult as the North’s other Royal – Portrush – but you still need to play smart golf, especially around the sublime greens. The front nine are often touted as the best opening nine on the island, but the entire experience of playing this unique course is never to be forgotten.
Rory – Tralee
Having originally tagged Tralee onto a tour of the South West coast as somewhat of a “filler” course, I wasn’t quite ready for what we found when we arrived in the car park. The view from the clubhouse is probably the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. “I have never come across a piece of land so ideally suited for the building of a golf course,” said Arnold Palmer of his course at Tralee. It’s easy to see why.
Tralee sits in a truly awe-inspiring location in County Kerry, known by some as the ‘Lake District’ of Ireland, and boasts views out over the Atlantic Ocean towards Fenit Island and beyond to the mountains of the distant Dingle Peninsula. Even if you shoot miles over your handicap, you can’t help be captivated by the journey around this amazing course.
The front nine offers the views and when you make your way into the back nine, strap yourself in for a wild ride through a myriad of enormous dunes, used masterfully by Arnold Palmer to create the most spectacular and enthralling nine holes of golf I’ve ever had the pleasure to play.
Kevin – Druids Glen
Druid’s Glen hosted the Irish Open on four consecutive occasions in the 1990s, launching this new course into the limelight. It is hardly surprising given that it is the most colourful parkland in Ireland, crammed with variety, water features and the best set of par threes in the country. And while three of these (8, 11 and 17) are laced with water; it is the par four 12th many will remember most. It is probably the toughest hole in Ireland, skirting around a rock face and over a stream off the tee, and then over a lake for your approach with swans watching how you go.
Set on an old estate (the clubhouse is in an 18th century Georgian house) Druid’s Glen is hugely entertaining from first to last. Sergio won his first professional tournament here as a teenager in 1999.
Rory – Killarney Killeen
I have to tip my cap to Kevin’s pick here as Druids Glen is a truly special golf course. The Augusta of Ireland as it’s known to some takes some beating in the beauty stakes but at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, and in the form of the amazing Killeen Course, I may just have a contender.
Set on the banks of Lough Leane, the largest freshwater lake in the South West, with the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and in particular Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland looming large in the background, the Killeen Course has hosted the Irish Open a number of times, most recently in 2011, thus proving its championship pedigree.
The course is very much parkland in nature and on the hole the variation and design of the holes provides a supremely entertaining challenge, with a number of holes hugging the shoreline of the lake too. Throw in world class conditioning and you’ve got a must play course in my eyes.
Viscount Castlerosse once said, “See what the almighty God can do when he is in a good mood.”And that sums up golf at Killarney quite nicely.
NB – Pack the camera for this one.
Kevin – The Island
There are so many good things to be said about The Island: the maintenance is exceptional; it hosted Regional Open Championship qualifying from 2013-2015; it starts with eight remarkably different par fours; it has one of the best back nines you’ll ever play; and it boasts a fascinating history (until the 1970s you could only reach the course by boat). The Island also boasts big dunes which are out of kilter with the other big Dublin links courses, so you will be moving over tossing terrain all day.
Perhaps most enjoyable of all is that no two holes are the same or even similar. Variety is the spice of life, here, and that clichéd expression ‘every club in the bag’ will be well applied at The Island – even off the tee!
Rory – The European Club
20 holes. Par 78. Only in Ireland right?
The European Club was built as somewhat of a plaything, or “just a fun thing for me” said designer and owner Pat Ruddy (the man responsible for many of Ireland’s great golf courses) to enjoy but once he realised he had a much grander course than 1st expected he thought “we’d better share this with other people.”I for one am thankful that he did.
All the essential links ingredients are present and correct at The European Club and there are some unique touches too, most notably in the form of the railway sleepered bunkers which are a total no-no if you want to score well. History is the only thing missing here but that’s just a matter of time.
“We are working at our own pace which we describe as sped-up evolution, as opposed to the high-finance “dropped from heaven” approach common today.” And it’s working too.
The European Club boasts two holes voted into the World’s 500 Greatest Golf Holes and another in the World’s 100 Greatest Golf Holes….the rest of the course is spectacular too and you couldn’t ask for a warmer welcome than the one we got from the Ruddy family.
I can’t wait to get back to County Wicklow for another round.
Kevin – Enniscrone
One of Ireland’s quieter links but still one of the best. Set on Killala Bay, in Co. Sligo, the course is approaching its centenary, and combines heaving dunes with naturally shaped holes and fabulous green settings. There are some flatter holes – 5 to 9 – but these are still deceptive thanks to the testing green sites and once you get stuck into the back nine you can easily be overawed by the size and shape of holes. The famous 12th plays alongside Cnoc na gCorp…or Hill of the Dead, which is an apt name for a 345 yard hole which is Index 3.
There are no pretensions here…and while Enniscrone is a stern test it embraces the true spirit of links golf.
Rory – Lahinch
After a couple of gentle holes to start – don’t confuse “gentle” with easy” by the way – the Old Course at Lahinch comes to life and before the end of the front nine, you’ll already be in love with the place. If you’re not…then maybe golf’s not for you!
A shot-maker’s haven, Lahinch requires golfers to employ their creativity to combat awkward stances created by the endlessly rippling links land and although they are not every golfer’s cup of tea, the blind shots here, of which there are a few, add to the challenge too.
In short, if you put yourself in the correct positions off the tees there are opportunities to score well, but miss in the wrong spots and Lahinch, with all its charming kinks and quirks really bares its teeth!
The views are spectacular too, especially from certain holes including the par 3 8th and par 3 11th where the Atlantic sprawls out right in front of your eyes. If I was to choose between another round here or at Ballybunion, what many consider to be The Republic’s best course, I’d choose Lahinch every time which is high praise indeed.
Kevin – Carne
In the farthermost reaches of Co. Mayo are the most explosive dunes on the planet. They are home to 27 astounding and natural links holes. Carne has a remoteness that gives it an almost mystical quality: as holes slide up and down the dunes, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the endless views are suddenly shut off as you drop to the valley floors.
Tee boxes are perched u p high, promising dramatic drives, while greens can be tucked in at the base of dunes or sitting on plateaus high above. Golf shots need to be creative to reach many of the putting surfaces but, succeed or fail, every swing is enthralling. Surprisingly, Carne is not a difficult course – this is about enjoyment, not punishment.
Rory – Portstewart
I’ve been lucky enough to play all three of the links courses that Northern Ireland’s County Antrim coastline is famous for and out of Portstewart, Castlerock and even the mighty Royal Portrush; I’d head back to Portstewart first and foremost.
I know many people would question this decision due to the comparably lacklustre back nine at Portstewart but the opening nine holes here are just that good. In fact if you combined these with the back nine at Tralee, which I mentioned earlier, I genuinely think you’d have the best links course on the planet.
The opening tee shot sets the tone here and I’d hazard a guess that no matter how far and wide you travel with your clubs in tow, you’ll never find a more exciting and dramatic start to a round of golf anywhere in the world. Played from a tee that boasts a pretty awe-inspiring view to a fairway seemingly miles beneath your feet, this marks the start of your journey into an epic dunescape which offers challenges and fun in equal measure.
As I said the back nine isn’t a patch on the first half of the course but that shouldn’t deter anyone…you might need the rest after a crazy front nine anyway!
Who has the best picks?
If you had to play these courses, which ones would you rather play, Kevin’s or Rory’s? Click below to vote and don’t forget to tweet us your thoughts @yourgolftravel[polldaddy poll=9386863]