Monday, December 7, 2015

Big Whales and Little Fish - Ireland's Golf Rankings

The 6th green at Rathcore Golf Club.
Following the publication of Golf Digest Ireland's Top 100 Irish golf courses last week, there has been a considerable and negative reaction.

That is hardly surprising as the process this year was seriously undermined.

Panelists did not visit all the courses and, as someone who has been
fortunate enough to play every 18 hole Irish course, I know how much a course can change over the course of a year or two. St Margaret's is one that has taken less than a year to get back to its pristine best; Cregmore Park, a course I really liked the first time around, was not looking nearly so healthy the second time I visited. Things change. If you'd played Mount Juliet three years ago you would have been stumped that it was rated as one of Ireland's top parklands.
St Margaret's Golf Club, 8th green.
There are numerous other accusations aimed at the ranking - Moyvalley's inclusion being the most serious and detrimental flaw - but one that always gets raised is the matter of advertising. The commonly perceived notion is that if you advertise with the magazine then your ranking will improve.

Now, I have no proof of this either way, and that is not the point of my blog... but there are two key issues to be considered:
Views down the 13th at Athy Golf Club. No marketing budget here...
all resources go into the course.

1. Golf Club Budgets

What is clear is that golf clubs who have money to advertise in magazines and promote themselves more widely will be more readily noticed - both by prospective golfers and the GDI panel. Small clubs, with extremely restricted budgets and fighting for survival do not have the resources to focus on such arbitrary things as golf rankings.

People debate the importance/relevance of these rankings all the time, but believe me when I say that such rankings can be extremely beneficial to small clubs. The likes of Royal County Down and Ballybunion are the 'big whales' - pretty much indifferent to Golf Digest Ireland's Top 100 - but the 'little fish' such as Portarlington, Athy, Rathcore and Scrabo could see a marked difference in green fee revenue if they were to be included... and certainly three of those courses would make my top 100.
The opening par four at Portarlington Golf Club
There's also the issue of the 9-hole course. Not one is included in the top 100. I  imagine Ivan Morris would have something to say about that. As a mad keen golfer (and author) he went off and played all of the 9-hole courses and wrote a book about it. Back in September, I wrote a review of Ireland's Best 9 Hole Courses. My top 9-hole course is Cruit Island, which would also make my Top 100... but Ivan rates several other courses ahead of it... and that leads to my second issue:
View over the 9th green at Cruit Island.

2. Golf Club Size

If you have a big course stretching over a wide acreage then you can be pretty sure you'll be included in the top 100. That's not a universal law - Bantry Bay, Nuremore, Blackwood, for example, aren't in there - but certainly if you're small and tight your chances of inclusion are far slimmer. North West and Castletroy are Top 100 courses which are good examples of courses with restricted space. But there should be more. Just because you're limited in scale doesn't mean you're limited in fun and enjoyment. Ivan's home course of Limerick would be a case in point... as would mine (Greystones).

In fact, take a look at GDI's ranking and you'll see only a handful of 'little fish' included on the list - certainly fewer than 10. How many of the panel have played Rathcore; how many have even heard of Scrabo? Is it any wonder these small courses can't even get considered for the top 100?
The par three 6th at Corballis Golf Club - a terrific public links.

Ireland's Hidden Golfing Gems

At the beginning of 2014, I produced a list of the Best Hidden Golfing Gems in Ireland... 10 parkland and 10 links. Of those 20, eight appear in GDI's list and six of them are Irish links. The only two parklands are Portumna and Esker Hills.

As for GDI's Top 100 Irish golf courses... as much as this year has shown it up to be highly suspect, the ranking list still has its place... but there needs to be another list: a 'Top 30 Irish Golf Courses Playing Under The Radar.'

I'm working on it.


  1. I love your book Hooked. It's my bible for booking the society outings. I've the 2nd edition. Keep up the great work Kevin.

  2. Very well put Kevin. Keep up the good work!

  3. I agree re Hooked - it's a great reference book for finding hidden gems. Do you revise your ratings when you re-play the courses? Given the improvements St Margarets has made I presume their score has been bumped up ...

    1. Sadly, Fran, the rating for St Margaret's didn't change for the 3rd edition. It went to print in Oct '14, just after the club went under new management.
      As for revising ratings... unless there's something significant I try not to change the individual ratings based on repeated visits. That said, 'Value' has changed a fair bit as green fees have varied so much since the first edition came out in 2008.

  4. Again like Fran we in the royal curragh have been upgrading our course and have you played it this year? A big change from 2014