Monday, January 5, 2015

Ireland's Rankings... The Comparisons
The 14th at Rosapenna (Sandy Hills)
Over the last year or so there have been five major rankings of Irish golf courses. These come from an Irish magazine and four UK golf media. The ranking comparisons are shown in the table below.

The top 30 courses according to Golf Digest Ireland (GDI) are in the left hand column - call these the benchmark as they're taken from the Top 100 Irish Golf courses. The remaining rankings are alongside, showing which Irish courses make the top 100 GB&I ranking. The overall GB&I ranking is then shown in brackets.

Of the five rankings, four list Royal County Down (RCD) at number one, with the other listing the Newcastle course at number two. That's consistency for you. Thereafter it all becomes very interesting with courses such as Rosapenna Sandy Hills (25th, 11th, 10th, 13th and 9th) and Tralee (7th, 18th, 11th, 8th, 16th) exhibiting the biggest swings, Ballyliffin (Old) being omitted from two lists, and The Island remaining firmly between 12th and 14th place. Don't forget that all the publications have different assessment criteria/panels.

It is no surprise that links predominate... especially as the fifth list (NCG) only deals with links courses.
The intimidating drive on Royal County Down's 11th hole
Approach to The Island's 13th - one of the toughest par threes on the island
It's quite a juggling act to manoeuvre your way across the different rankings, but intriguing nonetheless. I could probably have thrown in Golf Digest's Top 100 list (courses outside the USA), which includes eight Irish courses... but I didn't have space! But yet again, Royal County Down takes top spot, with Portmarnock (12), Royal Portrush (13), Waterville (23), Ballybunion (26), Lahinch (41), Tralee (82), The European (88) also being included.

Rankings alway cause controversy and are rarely as useful as they first appear because golfers have different views on what makes a golf course great. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all, and between companions, performance, location, condition and weather, we can all make flash judgements about a course.

The 4th at Portsalon.
A friend once told me he had a horrible experience at Portsalon and would never go back. When pushed, he admitted that the drive to the course had been horrendous and he'd got lost twice... it had nothing to do with the rather excellent golf course.

My only recommendation is that you pick a couple you haven't played before and make yourself a promise to play them this year. How else will you be able to experience - and rank - Ireland's golf courses for yourself!

Here are my ten best Irish Golf photographs of the year... for a little added inspiration.


  1. I have always found RCD's domination of the rankings to be unusual. Golf World has gone so far as to say it's the best public course in the world!
    The ranking in Ireland's Golfing Weekly (which is determined by regular golfers rather than critics) of RCD as the 12th best links is Ireland is closer to the mark (although it does seem a little harsh).
    As RCD lacks the drama of Tralee and Carne and the scenery of Ballybunion RCD would appear to be a case of "The Emperor's New Clothes" when rankings are considered among critics.
    I have played it twice and both times I was underwhelmed given the stature of the course. It is still one of the best courses on the East coast though.
    What are your thoughts?

    1. Fran, I'd agree that Golfing Weekly's ranking of 12th is off the mark... way off the mark. I wouldn't have it as my favourite course, but there's little doubting that it's one of the best in the world. The condition of the place the three times I've played it (Nov, Feb, March) was incredible, and it just offers up so many varied holes, different shapes and intriguing challenges. Apart form a couple of holes on the back 9 (17th in particular) it blows me away every time.
      I would say that it is a more rounded golf experience than Carne... but I would prefer to play Carne for the sheer thrill of so many enormous holes. The word 'epic' springs to mind.
      And having played Ballybunion a few times I don't quite get why people think the views are so spectacular. Nice, yes, but not in the league of Dooks, Tralee, Co Sligo, Narin & Portnoo... or Royal County Down.

  2. Fair points Kevin - the conditioning of the course is excellent and it does have a good variety of holes (I love the 9th) but couldn't the same be said about Baltray (another top class links course)?
    Don't get me wrong, RCD is a great course, I'm just trying to understand why it's consistently considered to be the best.

    1. I suspect there is an element that the course's reputation and history influences people's judgement. The same is true of Portmarnock... which doesn't excite me in the same way as RCD.
      RCD is also very different in its setting, its fast and thrilling start (the first 13 holes are pretty exceptional), and its natural shape. The bunkering is unique, the holes are well separated out and the course has the name Old Tom Morris attached to it. It all adds up.
      You're not the only one who thinks it's a bit overhyped, but I still think it's the 'must-play' course on the island.

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