Monday, February 20, 2023

The Next Bucket List... but not the last

They’ve become almost ubiquitous when it comes to golf destinations and yet we still devour every ‘official’ new list that comes out. 


And one has. This time it’s by Clarkes Golf, a UK family business started by Director and PGA Professional David Clarke over 40 years ago. 

Views from Carne

The problem with some of these lists – and this is one – is that they include courses that are inaccessible. We can all shoot for the stars but we should really be dreaming with our feet on the ground. Who among us doesn’t aspire to play Augusta? Who among us ever will? And Augusta is the number one course on the Clarkes Golf list. It also includes Muirfield Village and Kiawah Island, which, like Augusta, are private clubs. 


Here in Ireland we don’t have private golf clubs but there are so many in America, and a fair few in Great Britain and elsewhere, that it portrays golf as elitist. Perhaps that is why they appear on such lists. Like a child in the sweet store, we want what we can’t have. Personally, I think that does a disservice to the courses we CAN play. 

Carne's 13th green to clubhouse

So, the key question is: how do you define bucket list? Is it the best courses or the best destinations – there’s a distinct difference – or is it the most luxurious and/or unobtainable? 


For the Clarkes Golf ranking system the following information was collected on 498 golf courses across the world: Followers data was taken from the Instagram pages of each golf course. Interest data was taken from SEMrush by measuring the keyword volume for the golf course name. Both UK and US markets were used to define interest in playing the course. Popularity data was taken from SEMrush by measuring traffic data for each of the golf course websites. Both UK & US markets were used to determine the popularity of the golf course. All this data was collected on November 1st 2022, and if you can figure out what all of the above means you’re doing better than I am. But it does sound impressive, doesn’t it? 


Let’s take a quick look at a handful of other ‘Bucket List’ lists over the years to give you some flavour. I’ve included their top five results and you’ll see distinct patterns within the results. 


Bleacher Report (2010) focuses all too much on the USA with Pacific Dunes, Pebble Beach, Spy Glass, Torrey Pines and Kiawah Island as the top five. 


Golfpass (2015) had St Andrews at number one, followed by Pebble Beach, Cape Kidnappers, Bandon Dunes, and The Melbourne Sandbelt. (2021) listed Bandon Dunes at number one, then Cabot Links, Destination Kohler (where you’ll find Whistling Straits among the Wisconsin courses), Pinehurst Resort, and Sand Valley… so another very North American vibe! 


Shipsticks (2021), a company that ships your golf clubs wherever you want to go, had St Andrews top, followed by Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes, Cape Kidnappers and Whistling Straits. In 6th place was Royal County Down. 

Royal County Down 13th 

Golfbreaks (2022) put Pebble Beach at number one, St Andrews at two with Trump Turnberry, Dubai and West Coast of Ireland rounding out the top five. 


I included the mention of Royal County Down (RCD) because it is important to highlight that two of the world’s greatest courses – RCD and Royal Portrush – don’t make the top five in any of these six lists and yet the reputation, location and setting for both courses is sensational. Surely they are the perfect bucket list destination! The Golfbreaks list at least mentions the West Coast of Ireland, but when you consider that we have a third of the world’s links it is mind-numbingly absurd that Irish (and Scottish) courses aren’t included on every list. Perhaps they’re just not expensive enough… and no, I’m not joking: the American and Asian travelling golfer often equates cost and exclusivity with quality and desirability. 


For clarification, the Clarkes Golf top five are Augusta, Sandals Emerald Bay (Bahamas), Pebble Beach, Kiawah Island Resort, and Whistling Straits. Other countries include Mauritius, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Barbados. Closer to home, Gleneagles, in 6th spot, is the only Scottish venue of the 20 listed. Meanwhile, Ireland can boast two: Adare Manor at 9th and Old Head at 20th. This strongly suggests that ‘plush’ and ‘luxury’ were highly regarded criteria because both Irish courses, as well as Gleneagles, certainly tick those boxes. 

To be honest, lists like this are just good fodder for conversation. And, a little like the Top 100 lists that appear frequently, they should be taken with a pinch of salt and used as a guide for future adventures… assuming of course that you are allowed in to play. 


The 1st at St Patrick's
If you’re wondering, my five-strong bucket list would be Cabot Links (Canada), Morfontaine (France), Utrecht de Pan (Netherlands), Lofoten Links (Norway), Askernish (Scotland). They combine varying degrees of quality, beauty, history and mystery. In Ireland, where I have played so much and so many, I can recommend nothing higher than Carne, Enniscrone, Royal County Down, Ballybunion and St Patrick’s Links. 


If you don’t have a bucket list ticking away in the back of your mind start one today. Pick five courses, near or far, and make it your mission to play them in the coming years.

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