Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Modern Links Masterpieces on the Emerald Isle

From Guest Blogger, Rory, a review of five of Ireland's most modern links.

The 8th at Ballyliffin. Photo by Aidan Bradley
As we all know golf is an ancient game, rooted in tradition and history, played on courses that have remained largely unchanged over the centuries. While the age old courses are a great reminder of where the game came from, like all things, golf must move forward. Over the last couple of decades we have seen the arrival of some world class, modern golf courses. 

Ireland has long been a world class golfing destination, due in part to its famous links courses along the South West coast. In recent years, however, it has gotten a whole lot better thanks to the arrival of some modern masterpieces. Here we take a look at 5 of the best links courses to have cropped up in the Emerald Isle and why they are must-play courses for the discerning golfer.

European Club

Set on the windswept shores of County Wicklow, just South of Dublin, lies the European Club, a masterful links that is not only a work of art in terms of aesthetics, but as a test of golf as well. Designed by Pat Ruddy, who has made quite an impression on the Irish golf scene in the past couple of decades, the European Club is a thrilling challenge from start to finish; a test of golf that demands creative shot making and an appreciation of good course management in order to emerge unscathed on the 18th green. Approach shots are particularly important as the greens are well protected and difficult to find in regulation with sub-standard iron play. 
The 1st at The European Club
Immediately a top class links test when it was built, the European Club has benefited from Ruddy’s continued input over recent years. For example, the out of place lake short of the 18th green has been replaced by a meandering burn, which is much more fitting for a links course. Small details, but details that certainly add to the overall experience.
Ivan tees off on the 12th at The European Club
It may seem a cliché to say that the European Club appears to be a totally natural course, sculpted by Mother Nature herself, but that really is the case. It is a remarkable feat for a course that was opened for play as recently as 1993. The course measures in excess of 7,000 yards from the back tees and thus it can test even the best in the game and with massive dunes framing each hole and the Irish Sea providing a stunning backdrop to the course, this is an inspiring place to play golf.      

Ballyliffin (Glashedy)

Ballyliffin Golf Club was founded in 1947 and the Glashedy Course joined the party in 1995, to sit alongside the Old Course, in County Donegal. It makes this North Western gem all the more appealing for golfers visiting Ireland’s idyllic Inishowen Peninsula. The Glashedy Course is another Pat Ruddy creation and, like the European Club, a good score usually comes about through the use of brains rather than brawn.

Having said that though, playing from the back tees requires some strong hitting as there are nine par 4s over 400 yards in length!
The 2nd at Ballyliffin's Glashedy
Playing from more suitable tees – the course measures a manageable 6,327 yards from the White tees – is the way to go on the Glashedy, in order to fully appreciate the supreme quality of the course the closer you get to the greens. Fairways are masterfully routed and sculpted to encourage creativity, with bump and run often being the best way to navigate your way to the massive putting surfaces. These are quick and true and thanks to some alarming undulations, two putting is never a given. Concentration is required from start to finish.  

Like many of its counterparts further south, Ballyliffin’s Glashedy Course is set among impressive dunes and as such each hole offers a feeling of solitude and an atmosphere unmatched on many other courses. This provides some shelter but the wind still plays a huge part in the difficulty of the course. 

Having already hosted the North West of Ireland Championships, the Glashedy at Ballyliffin clearly has tournament pedigree and it would not be surprising to see it hosting the Irish Open in the years to come. 


It takes a special creation to make waves on the South West coast of Ireland; such is the supreme quality and quantity of the golf courses already in existence in this part of the world. Greg Norman’s Doonbeg has grabbed many a golfer’s attention since opening for play in 2002, and it is now held in the same high regard as the likes of Ballybunion and Lahinch; two courses that have long been flying the flag for Irish links golf.

Norman made countless visits to Doonbeg, in County Clare, during its planning and construction so his creative stamp is evident all over the course. The land on which the course is built seems heaven sent for golf and prompted Norman to say: "When I first looked at this site, I thought I was the luckiest designer in the world. If I spent the rest of my life building courses, I don't think I'd find a comparable site anywhere."
The magnificent and terrifying 6th at Doonbeg
The finished article is very much in the mould of a traditional links, with a nine out and nine back routing, meaning the prevailing wind plays a vital role in the difficulty of the course. Although predominantly a traditional links, there are a few quirks to this marvellous course. There are five par 3s and five par 5s which is not altogether common on championship courses. On one particular hole a bunker sits smack, bang in the middle of the green! To go along with the quirks there is also an endless procession of stunning holes with the signature coming at the par 3 14th. Just 111 yards from tee to green, this little devil of a hole is one of the best short holes in the country.

With the Atlantic sitting within touching distance of the course, monstrous dunes framing each hole and world class conditioning, especially in the form of the 18 perfect greens, there are few courses built in recent years that can go toe to toe with Doonbeg, making this a must play course for lovers of links golf.   

Rosapenna (Sandy Hills)

Tucked away in Ireland’s North West, in County Donegal, Rosapenna has long been welcoming golfers to its fairways with the Old Tom Morris course having been in play since 1891. The addition of the Sandy Hills course in 2003 has only added to Rosapenna's reputation.

While Old Tom’s course skirts the fantastic dunes, Pat Ruddy carved his creation straight through them, shaping a monstrous tournament links on the same patch of land that so captivated Old Tom over a century ago.
Views from Rosapenna
From the word go you get a great feel for this course and start to understand just how tough the next few hours or your life are going to be; this course is not for the faint-hearted and could well be the most difficult in Ireland.

Each hole is framed perfectly by the towering, silver-maned dunes and as such the considerable challenge of each hole is clearly presented to the player on the tee. Straying too far off line from the tee is a real no-no as finding balls in the choppy rough, particularly atop a mountainous dune, is no easy task. Accurate approach shots are also required as the greens are well protected and often cut into the dunes or on elevated plateaux which can leave tricky pitch shots should you miss the target from the fairway.
The long and beautiful 1st at Rosapenna Sandy Hills
Wild, rugged and isolated, it is easy to feel wonderfully lost in the depths of the Sandy Hills Course and as you go over and through the dunes, you have the chance to soak up views of the neighbouring Old Course and the stunning surrounding landscape. Your handicap may not travel well here but if you accept the challenge, you will love Sandy Hills.  


The beautifully natural Carne Golf Links is widely regarded as the late Eddie Hackett's finest creation; high praise indeed considering the much revered Waterville further down the West coast is also among his projects. Carne was recognised in 2006 as the Highest New Entry in Golf World's Top 100 golf courses and since then it has gone from strength to strength, becoming one of Ireland’s best links offerings; and yet, rather puzzlingly, this remarkable links, set in atmospheric isolation on County Mayo’s Atlantic coast, often goes unnoticed by golfers visiting the Emerald Isle.
The par three 16th at Carne.
Carne straddles a remote peninsula that features monstrous, rough covered dunes and offers amazing views across Blacksod Bay and out into the Atlantic. Not only is this course visually stunning from start to finish, it offers a world class test of golf as well. Such is the established feel of the course it is hard to believe it only opened for play in 1993. This has a lot to do with the way in which the course was created. Wild and natural, the construction of Carne involved very little earth-moving and shaping, with Hackett using the inherent features of the land to great effect. 
View back down the 10th to Carne's clubhouse
Unlike many of the age old links courses found in the UK & Ireland, Carne doesn’t follow a traditional out and back routing but rather each nine weaves its way through the dunes, eventually looping back towards the clubhouse. This means the wind is a constant factor as it attacks you from all angles. At 6,363 yards from the White tees, there is an opportunity to score well here on a still day but when the wind blows hard the course becomes so much more difficult.

If links golf floats your boat then Carne is a must. At times quirky, at times brutal, but always breathtaking.


  1. If you are going to use my photography at least have the decency to give me a photo credit. The 1st at Ballyliffin.

    Aidan Bradley

    1. My humble apologies, Aidan. It was the image I was sent by Rory.

  2. It's not the 1st at Ballyliffin Old, but the 8th...

  3. I wish I hadn't come by your blog as it makes me long to play some links style golf again. I've only played a couple of times, as the trips over always had another reason for being there. I can think of nothing more rewarding than to head over to Ireland just to play golf, which is going to be the reason for the next trip, by God.
    Enjoyed the course descriptions, hope you venture grows,

  4. Wow! These look great! I'd love to visit these places at least once. Of course, I'd need to bring my A-game. I'm using stuff from http://shop.annestone.com/collections/putt-a-round to improve my putting in my spare time (and I do that indoors, too). It's improved quite a bit. You might want to try it yourself.