Ireland's credentials as a golfing superpower are so impressive that making a list of its best courses feels akin to making one for the best courses in the world. Second only to Scotland in importance to the history of the great game, Ireland gives the impression that it was sculpted to be the home of spectacular golf courses.
Home to over 25% of all the natural links courses on the planet, the small island has a huge amount of character. The fact that many of golf's great players come from the Emerald Isle, including the likes of Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley, is hardly surprising considering the quality of courses they have grown up on.
Royal County Down (Championship Course)
Ranked 1st on Golf Digest's biennial 'World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses' list in 2016 and again in 2018, Royal County Down Golf Club needs little introduction. The golf course is nestled in the Murlough Nature Reserve, flanked by the breathtaking Mountains of Mourne and running along Dundrum Bay, is considered by many to be the most strikingly beautiful golf course in the world. Don’t let the beauty of Royal County Down fool you, the course is a true test of golf, narrow fairways and ‘bearded bunkers’ demand excellent control of the golf ball.
|Location:||Newcastle, Co. Down|
|Designed by:||George L. Ballie, Old Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, Harry Colt|
Royal Portrush (Dunluce Links)
Royal Portrush remains the only golf club outside of mainland Britain to ever host The Open Championship, an honour that will be bestowed upon it once again as the world’s elite golfers do battle on the rough links terrain in The Open 2019. The already tough track will present a fresh challenge to amateurs and pros alike, as two new holes have been added in for the most exciting major of the year, potentially making an already great course even greater.
|Location:||Portrush, Co. Antrim|
|Designed by:||Harry Colt|
Lahinch Golf Club (Old Course)
Set to host the Irish Open for the first time in 2019, Lahinch has been at the pinnacle of Irish golf since the great game was first played there in 1892. This Irish gem is often referred to as 'the St Andrews of Ireland', a place where control of the golf ball is not just advantageous but necessary. For those who love real links golf, this course is as gorgeous as any you will find, a definite must-play.
|Location:||Lahinch, Co. Clare|
|Designed by:||Old Tom Morris, Dr Alistair Mackenzie, Dr Martin Hawtree|
Tralee Golf Club
Situated in a breathtaking location on the shores of County Kerry, Tralee is arguably a little overlooked at times thanks to its relatively close proximity to some of Ireland's most famous courses such as Ballybunion and Lahinch; a crying shame considering it easily holds its own with the best layouts in Ireland. Just ask course designer Arnold Palmer, who once said of Tralee: “I have never come across a piece of land so ideally suited for the building of a golf course.” Who are we to argue with The King? Tralee is not only a fantastic test of golf but its stunning location on the shores of the ‘Lake District’ of Ireland will have golfers taking as many shots with their cameras as they do with their clubs. Get into your stride on the gentler front nine which boasts some of the most spectacular views imaginable, before taking to the back nine where it's fair to say you'll need your A Game to come out the other side with a decent scorecard intact!
|Location:||Tralee, Co. Kerry|
|Designed by:||Old Tom Morris, Dr Alistair Mackenzie & Dr Martin Hawtree|
Portmarnock Golf Club
Jutting out into the Irish Sea just beside Dublin, Portmarnock is surrounded by water on 3 sides, making for spectacular views and changeable winds. The layout is such that every shot is potentially played with the wind coming from a different direction, however, from the tees to the greens nearly every feature is in sight, providing a fair test to golfers of any ability. The 19-time host of the Irish Open is deserving of a mention on any list of Ireland's greatest courses.
|Location:||Portmarnock, Co. Dublin|
|Designed by:||William Pickeman|
One of the youngest links courses in Ireland, the 20-hole beauty is owner and designer Pat Ruddy's vision come to life. The European Club is full of quirks, such as the 125 yard long green on the 12th, that make playing a round upon its marvellous dunes a truly unique experience. Potentially one of the last links courses to come out of Ireland, this is a course every golfer should play.
|Location:||Brittas Bay, Co. Wicklow|
|Designed by:||Pat Ruddy|
Waterville Golf Links
Waterville Golf Links is one of the more remote golf courses on our list, located down in the South West of Ireland, in the face of the Atlantic ocean, golfers from around the world make the pilgrimage to play on its spectacular links. Although the front 9 rolls across somewhat flat land, the undulating back 9 follows the natural layout of the dunes. The ground is firm and fast, the ability to roll the ball up onto the greens will serve you well at Waterville.
|Location:||Waterville, Co. Kerry|
|Designed by:||Eddie Hackett, Claude Harmon|
Trump International Golf Links Ireland
The only course designed by Greg Norman in the entirety of the UK & Ireland, Trump Doonbeg is certainly one of his masterpieces. However, it could be said that the greater credit belongs to Mother Nature, with 14 greens and 12 fairways mown where they lay, the course is mesmerising in its natural beauty. Forged along the County Clare coastline, 16 holes boast astonishing views over the Atlantic.
|Location:||Doonbeg, Co. Clare|
|Designed by:||Greg Norman|
Co. Sligo Golf Club
Golf was first played on the land at County Sligo as early as 1894, it was remodelled by the famous golf architect Harry Colt in 1927 and is surely one of his masterpieces. This course contains all the elements of a classic links; rolling dunes, elevated greens and dramatic bunkering to name but a few. You will need to think your way around County Sligo, every hole is wonderfully unique and will require a change of tactic.
|Location:||Rosses Point, Co. Sligo|
|Designed by:||Harry Colt|
The Island Golf Club
Potentially Irish Golf’s best-kept secret, The Island Golf Club is well over 100 years old and until 1973 could only be accessed by boat. Becoming increasingly more popular as word spreads, this course is one of the most spectacular in all of Ireland, the isolation only adding to the serene beauty. Of all the links courses in Ireland, The Island claims the highest sand dunes making for natural golf holes that have kept the integrity of the land intact.
|Location:||Donabate, Co. Dublin|
|Designed by:||Fred Hawtree, Eddie Hackett, Martin Hawtree|
Ballyliffin Golf Club (Glashedy Links)
Another young golf course to make our list, the Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin only opened for play in 1995. The northernmost club in all of Ireland, what it lacks in history it makes up for in character and artful design. A tough test for even the most skilled manipulator of the golf ball, the course is considered a brute but also a must play. Ballyliffin looks set to bid for the Irish Open in the near future, something many golfers would welcome.
|Location:||Inishowen, Co. Donega|
|Designed by:||Pat Ruddy, Tom Craddock|