Monday, November 14, 2011

Golf Digest Ireland Top 100 Irish Golf Courses 2012

Golf Digest Ireland Top 100 Irish Golf Courses 2012

The new rankings are out... Golf Digest Ireland has got it in the neck over recent years, with a ranking system that caused more upset than approval and generated endless rumours of advertising-leads-to-improved-rankings skullduggery. As with all rankings, unless there's a completely transparent and traceable system (think Supermarket meat packing), someone is going to cry 'foul'. Hardly surprising when everyone has such diverse opinions on what makes a course great.

[Photo: Waterville's 'Mass' Hole (par three 12th). The most significant move in the top ten, rising from 6 to 8]

In general, the top 10 are regarded as being correct, although some people would shift things around a bit - Portmarnock, at No. 2, has never been a favourite of mine, and moving The European from 4 to 8 seems a mighty big leap, which, like its owner, only improves with age.

The arguments typically focus on what comes between 11 and 100, and what has been left out.

Golf World magazine did a 'Ireland's Top 100' a couple of months back, and I was invited to make a contribution. I had a lot of fun looking at the magazine's existing list and moving things about. Naturally, not all my suggestions made it through - hardly surprising when you consider that Padraig, Paul McGinely and Pat Ruddy were also contributing - but it made me appreciate how difficult it is to create a list that I was happy with.

[Photo: Adare drops two to tenth but remains the highest ranked parkland. This is the par three 16th]

New Approach

Perhaps GDI got tired of all the grief and decided to shake things up. This year sees an 'X Factor' contribution from Ireland's golfing public. A number were selected earlier this year and taken to the K Club to be prepped by Ally McKintosh (course designer), on how to rate/view a golf course. A couple of these raters have been in touch and told me about their experiences - all good I might add, as they got to play some of our best courses - but there is no indication how significant their contribution was to the overall result. 25%? 10%? Less? There is quite a group of unofficial 'official' experts and I imagine their opinions carry the greatest weight.

[Photo: the par four 6th at Bunclody. A non-mover at 59]

There were also two changes to the criteria which the raters used (see below): the 'shot making/variety' criterion was increased from 10 points to 20; and a new category of 'WOW factor' was introduced.

The seven criteria are:

Degree of difficulty/fairness 10 points

Shot making/variety 20 points

Design variety 10 points

Wow factor 10 points

Memorability 10 points

Condition 10 points

Playability 10 points

No doubt these changes have helped the rankings look more real, but there will always be naysayers who will spot anomalies that make the blood boil. I count myself among them... Killarney Lackabane at 68 still mystifies me, even if it has dropped 4 places, and there's no place for Macreddin, Rathcore or Portarlington. Druid's Glen drops 10 places, while Ballybunion Cashen is rising at a snail's pace at 91... but these are some of my personal gripes and I bow to the democratic process of the broader community!!

[Photo: Rathcore's exceptional par three 16th, but the course doesn't
make the Top 100]

NAMA Courses

For many, the contentious issue of NAMA courses being included (after being excluded in 2010), will cause a certain level of fury and/or concern. These courses, as good as they are (Tulfarris and New Forest are favourites of mine), cause considerable problems for their golfing neighbours. They already receive far too much assistance from the banks and NAMA, and they should not be given a promotional platform here. They may have the right to be recognised as excellent courses, but not at the expense of hard-working and struggling clubs... which describes many of our clubs today.

Here's the list. If you have any opinions on a particular course's position, let me know.

(Info in brackets shows movement from 2011)

1. Royal County Down (=)
2. Portmarnock (=)
3. Royal Portrush (=)
4. Waterville (Up 2)
5. Ballybunion (Old) (=)
6. Lahinch (Up 1)
7. Tralee (Up 3)
8. The European Club (Down 4)
9. County Louth (Baltray) (=)
10. Adare (Down 2)

11. County Sligo (Rosses Point) (=)
12. The Island (=)
13. Ballyliffin, Glashedy (Up 3)
14. Enniscrone (Up 3)
15. Mount Juliet (Down 2)
16. Donegal (Up 3)
17. Portstewart, Strand (Up 3)
18. Killeen Castle (Down 4)
19. Royal Dublin (Down 1)
20. The K-Club, Palmer (Down 5)

21. Belmullet, Carne (Up 4)
22. Ballyliffin, Old Links (Up 10)
23. Doonbeg (Up 13)
24. The Old Head of Kinsale (Up 23)
25. Rosapenna, Sandy Hills (Down 4)
26. Killarney, Killeen (Down 3)
27. Portsalon (Up 8)
28. Carton House, Montgomerie (Up 2)
29. Carlow (Down 5)
30. Cork (Down 1)
31. Portmarnock Links (=)
32. Lough Erne (Down 10)
33. Dooks (Up 4)
34. Rosapenna, Old Tom Morris (Down 1)
35. Castlerock (Down 7)
36. Headfort, New (Up 4)
37. Druids Glen (Down 10)
38. Concra Wood (Up 1)
39. Luttrellstown Castle (Up 10)
40. Fota Island, Deerpark (New entry)
41. The K-Club, Smurfit Course (Down 7)
42. Seapoint (Down 16)
43. Narin And Portnoo (Up 8)
44. Heritage (New entry)
45. Slieve Russell (Down 3)
46. Palmerstown House Estate (Up 8)
47. Tramore (Up 11)
48. Connemara (Up 8)
49. Carton House, O’Meara (Up 3)
50. Powerscourt, West Course (Down 12)
51. Belvoir Park (Down 8)
52. Malone (Down 11)
53. Portumna (Up 8)
54. Farnham Estate (Down 6)
55. Dun Laoghaire (Down 9)
56. Westport (Down 11)
57. Hermitage (=)
58. Portrush, Valley (Down 14)
59. Bunclody (=)
60. Dundalk (Down 10)
61. Tullamore (Down 8)
62. Glasson (Down 2)
63. Castletroy (Up 22)
64. Mount Wolseley (Up 12)
65. Arklow (Down 3)
66. Clandeboye (Up 3)
67. Rathsallagh (=)
68. Killarney, Lackabane (Down 4)
69. Dromoland Castle (Down 4)
70. Druids Heath (Down 15)
71. Ardglass (Down 3)
72. Royal Belfast (Up 1)
73. Shannon (Down 1)
74. Grange (Up 10)
75. Powerscourt, East Course (Down 12)
76. Castlemartyr (Down 2)
77. Laytown and Bettystown (Up 9)
78. Strandhill (Up 5)
79. Castle (Up 1)
80. Mullingar (Down 2)
81. Rosslare (Up 17)
82. St. Annes (Down 11)
83. Kilkenny (Down 17)
84. Skellig Bay (Up 3)
85. Knightsbrook (Down 6)
86. Bantry Bay (Down 16)
87. Galway (Down 6)
88. Galgorm Castle (Down 6)
89. Courtown (Down 14)
90. Ballinrobe (Up 1)
91. Ballybunion, Cashen (Up 2)
92. Balbriggan (Down 15)
93. Kirkistown Castle (New entry)
94. Tulfarris (New entry)
95. New Forest (New entry)
96. Galway Bay (Down 7)
97. Moyvalley (New entry)
98. Dingle, Ceann Sibeal (New entry)
99. Castleknock (New entry)
100. Woodenbridge (New entry)


  1. With only slight changes in the order from last year to this year it would seem that the user input that they took this year probably made up a very small percentage of the overall decision. Tullamore (62) is the club closest to me and while it is always in great condition it is hard to understand how anyone who has played Glasson (62) , Mount Wolseley (64) or Galway Bay (96) (these are just some of the courses I have played) would rate Tullamore ahead of them for any of the criteria apart from "Condition" possibly. I guess one good thing about the list is that it kicks off some interesting discussion :-)

  2. I always wonder how some clubs drop (or gain) lots of places. Are some of them so close together that a small difference means they drop or climb many places. For instance why did the Valley Course, Portrush drop 14 places? It's a very mature course so what made it drop so much?