The European Club is located in the garden of Ireland, between the coastal towns of Wicklow and Arklow, about 30 miles south of Dublin. It’s Pat Ruddy’s creation and he and his family have stayed there ever since. This is a unique experience, a 20-hole links set amongst rugged dunes. It opened for play in 1993 with only one thing missing – history.
Ruddy’s continued involvement with the European Club will no doubt only improve matters; the course needs time to evolve and he will be there to help it on its way. We are especially pleased to see that a charming burn has replaced the out-of-place lake in front of the 18th green. It’s an old adage to say that many of the holes look so natural that you’d think they’d been there forever, but it’s true. Ruddy has done an equally good job here as that of Kyle Phillips at Kingsbarns.
This is an inspiring place for golf, huge dunes provide tremendous definition and the Irish Sea is very much a backcloth. It’s a bit of a monster too; the 18-hole layout stretches to more than 7,000 yards, a challenging par 71. Two par 3s (7a & 12a) make up the par 77 20-hole layout and they are definitely worth playing, making a refreshing break from tradition.
There is no doubt that Ruddy has a sense of humour – the scorecard is full of witticisms, even the green on the par four 12th is humorous at over 125 yards long, with any three putt being an achievement. This is an enjoyable and memorable course. Many of the holes are varied and capture one’s attention and there are some great holes too.
The 7th (stroke index 1) is a long 470-yard par four, it's ranked in the world's best 100 holes and it's set on a sandbank that runs through a bed of reeds. A burn runs along the right hand side, beyond which there's a hundred acres of unspoiled land without a building to be seen. On the left are towering dunes, a marsh filled with reeds and more sand dunes by the green. Brittas Bay shimmers behind the green. The 13th – four evil bunkers on the left-hand side and the Irish Sea on the right – amply protect this very long 596-yard par five. The 14th is an arresting par three, measuring 165 yards with a plateau green shielded by huge dunes.
This is an absolute must-play golf course and quite likely one of the last links courses to be built in Ireland.
Pat Ruddy kindly provided the following update at the start of 2017:
At the European Club, I have my notebooks under constant review and there are always things that could be done and things that should be done. Each winter, and on all my review projects, I take and advocate a "steady as it goes" approach for many reasons, including not disrupting the life of a links to an extent that the oldest members will have their final years upset too much. We have a 20-hole course so I can work at two at any time and still have eighteen in play.
We’ve just finishing remodeling greens at holes 9 and 10. The green on the 9th was very nice with swerving, curving mounds eating into the green left and right at mid-point but they’ve been reshaped and softened, with the introduction of several extra small and almost imperceptible swings to add great intrigue to the running approach. The green on the 10th is somewhat the same so I have softened a mound on the right side of the green and enlarged the back right pin position which is the strongest on the green. The pin can now go two club lengths further right and demand a more nuanced approach.
I’m thrilled with these changes as they look great and should play great for the Irish Amateur Close Championship here next year. When we had the Close here in 2006 it produced a great winner in Rory McIlroy, with Shane Lowry caddying for his opponent in the final!”
I played the European in June 2019. Our first impression was surprising: no cars on the car park! We were told we could start whenever we want, there are only two other groups. The clubhouse is rather small and simple but nice and the food was good. From the starter we learned that the club has only 67 (!) members so that is probably why the clubhouse does not need to be bigger. On our way from first green to second tee a jaguar drove to us, a very well dressed man greeted us an went on driving over the tee box to another hole where he parked on the tee box. We were a bit surprised about that but we learned later that this was Mr. Ruddy who inspects the course every day like this.
The course itself is beautiful, with stunning views, lots of elevation changes, rather unexpected plants like many yuccas and agaves and the typical bunkers. Greens and fairways are rather soft compared to other links courses because the members prefer it that way. Never the less it always plays like a true links.
What I didn't like was the fact that for meall in all it seemed a bit too artificial and somehow over designed. The bunker walls with their railway sleepers, the artifical burn in front of the 18th green, the 20 hole layout (we were not allowed to play the two extra holes), the 127 yards green at the 12th, the more or less internal bunker at the 13th... just a bit too much. We also didn't understand why the 7th is the signature hole as there are better ones we thought and also the 14th, which is supoposed to be one of the best 100 holes in the world, was surely not the best on the course.
Never the less the course is a pure joy to play and the quality is superb and I am sure everybody will enjoy it!
The passage of time may be marked by a hairline that starts higher up for me and with the use of a buggy on Mr. Ruddy's part, but 20 years after I played the course for the first time, Mr. Ruddy is still there to see you off the first tee. If that doesn't put you in a positive mood to start your round, it only takes a couple holes before the sights will force you into one.
At the par 5 3rd is one of my favorite views in Irish golf, as the serpentine fairway leads you down towards the green and off beyond the Irish Sea and down the coastline. It helps it's a proper golf hole too. One of many on a course that plunges, climbs, and turns around some massive dunes. Some of the playing corridors here are amongst my favorite anywhere, creating that sense that you have the course to yourself, as you are shielded from other holes and players.
Then, when it isn't moving through those dunes, it's smack dab beside the beach, with a par 4 and par 5 that must be as close to the beach (in as much as it's in play) as any course that I have played.
Up the cliff and then a turn back into the dunes and a valley of fairway, eventually leads you to a closing hole that maybe isn't the most edifying way to end a round, but it hardly overshadows the fun and challenge that came before it.
And make no mistake, this course is a proper challenge in the way that Portrush is. If you are having a bad day off the tee, it can and will bite you. And for this golfer who has seen maybe one too many wide American destination golf resort the past few years, having the potential to get kicked up the backside now and again is actually fun.
Played this one quite recently and it was a walk but we were told beforehand they do like their dunes in Ireland. Glad we took one of their electric buggies because it saved my legs. Enjoyed our round and it was something different to the norm for us all especially the nice views and different greens. Sometimes a bit forced and not so natural if you know what I mean hole 14 or so and the stream on 18 compared to what I’m familiar with at least but in a few years it’ll probably settle down. Saying this we still had to think about the wind and where we put the ball and I played well for a change even though it wasn’t easy so that also helps with the experience! Ended up with 19 scores on my card and wasn’t alone as we realised afterwards that we’d definitely played 19 holes. Thought we might all be going senile at the same time but turned out there were in fact 20 holes so in the end we’d missed one. Clubhouse didn’t seem to match the course but green fee was cheaper than the other club Portmarnock we played that weekend. Cyril
Under the continued watchful eye of the owner, Mr. Pat Ruddy, the pursuit of the perfect golf links continues to be full steam ahead. Right from the first hole, this beautiful course will make you smile and eager to take on the challenge.
The carefully created holes will fill your eyes with grandeur, splendor, trials and tribulations. The first hole is tight and plays uphill all the way with no shortage of bunkers lined with those famous railroad ties. After a short par 3 second, the third hole is a downhill par 5 that really whets the appetite playing down towards the Irish Sea. Making a birdie early if you can as the par 4 4th hole takes the difficulty up about 10 notches as it’s uphill, tight and will take many prisoners.
Most of the holes are about avoiding the pot bunkers that have been perfectly positioned. The par 4 5th hole has another flurry of landmines that will swallow you up. The par 7th is celebrated globally and I agree that this is certainly justified. This par 4 is dedicated to the hard work of Mr. Arnold Palmer and is celebrated among the Top 500 holes on earth. It’s very tight and fraught with danger on both sides of the narrow fairway that feels like a pirates plank.
Nobody will argue that the back nine along the Irish Sea will take your breath away. The beauty will knock you over and it’s a testament to Mr. Ruddy’s vision of marrying up magnificence with ruthless challenge. Holes 12 and 13 skirt the water’s edge and will last in your memory forever. The 12th has the longest green in the world at 127 yards deep which is a sight to behold and the mighty par 5 13th from the back tees restores the art of three strategy shots to hit the dance floor. With the Irish Sea running all the way up the right hand side, it’s hard not to get distracted. The par 3 14th sits wonderfully in an amphitheater of dunes with enormous railroad tie bunkers that provide a visual threat before you take the club back.
Holes 15 and 16 don’t get enough credit. The 15th is uphill along the coast before the hugely strategic 16th turns you back around and dares you to navigate through a maze of bunkers. I always had a soft-spot for the downhill par 4 17th that plays inland through a V-Shaped valley of dunes. Arguably, the 9th and 18th holes look and feel the same, a comment I’ve heard from a number of reviewers which slightly hampers the sense of variety at the end of each nine.
In line with Mr. Ruddy’s strict preferences, there are no yardage markers on the fairways, just a few coloured poles that represent 100, 150 and 200 yards in. The course offers endless options to play the ball high or low, and with an infinite number of combinations to consider, the architect has created one of the most enjoyable walks in golf. The golf course is truly spectacular and you will not leave disappointed, especially if you get to spend some priceless time with the world-renowned hugely proud owner, creator and ruler of the land.
Pat Ruddy is one of a kind – and Irish golf wouldn’t be the same without him!
Some of the features on show here - 120 yard green at the 12th, horseshoe green at the 13th, sleepered bunkers, conspicuous burn protecting the 18th green - could split opinion, but don’t.
Almost all reviewers on this site (and elsewhere) seem to greatly enjoy them and so I’ll have to swim against the tide on this one (and have a long hard look at myself in the mirror). I simply found it a little contrived in forcing quirkiness or seeking authenticity.
Based on my limited experience, I didn’t feel this at other modern links like Castle Stuart or Pacific Dunes (I did admittedly get it at Trump International, but there it kind of fit in with my POTUS expectations and genuinely worked).
It was a shame to have to play the course the wrong way around due to frost delays. Like starting a book from half way, getting to the end, and then going back to read the first half. The routing was quite deliberate, so it felt we got our peaks too early in the round.
On a more positive note, I did enjoy the movement of the land, the sea views, and the banter with the starter was first class.
I had made a special trip to play here, so perhaps it was just the mood on the day or not enough Guinness the night before. It possibly didn’t help playing the same weekend as Portmarnock.
I’m still glad I made the visit though and if you haven’t played it yet, by general consensus, you should pay a visit - you will have noticed by now that you’ll rarely see anything other than a glowing review. Whilst The European Club is clearly not a marmite course for anyone else, it simply wasn’t my cup of tea
Agree with your sentiments BB (I also gave the European Club 4 balls). Played ok but just could not warm to it. Many have described EC as the best links in Ireland - they cant have played the Irish monuments.
The best links course in Ireland. Very much a hidden gem.
Questionable. Best course in Ireland... in your opinion fair enough. Hidden gem. Hardly. The European has been ranked in the World Top 100 for decades.
My wife and I had the privilege and pleasure of playing The European Club twice this past August -- once, in a torrential downpour with 30mph gusts -- the second time, days later, with the threat of even worst weather, but sun and light breezes prevailed (and we essentially had the course to ourselves on both days).
Three points to make. First, The European Club is by far the most complete golf course I've ever played in Ireland. Even as a bogey golfer, I can recognize and appreciate the combination of great links land, excellent conditioning, wonderful routing, diverse hole designs -- and the added attention-to-detail elements that challenge great golfers, but still create a manageable and memorable experience for the average golfer. Second, I absolutely love what I'll call "semi-blind" drives on several of the holes -- ones where you can kind of see and feel and know the landing areas (from the shot guide) -- but are challenged to decide to either layup and have a long second shot in -- or trust your swing and try to hit the perfect drive. Again, for the bogey golfer like me, to choose the latter and be successful in execution is extremely pleasing and rewarding. Makes you feel like a pro. And third, while there is everything to be said about the grand old links courses (the ones that Mother Nature carved out) -- and yes, the modern makers sometimes get it wrong (see St. Andrews Castle) -- when the modern makers get it right, boy do they get it right (I think of Kingsbarn, my favorite course in Scotland, short of the Old Course). Is it ok for me to suggest that The European Club is the Kingsbarn of Ireland (or Kingsbarn the European Club of Scotland :-)? I'm not sure how much earth Mr. Ruddy moved to create this masterpiece -- but I can assure you that the combination of his passion and love or the game, plus his golf and artistic talent, plus what God gave him to work with -- he got it just right. And btw, as a sidebar -- the only great concentration of links courses in the U.S. are at Bandon Dunes -- and The European Club, even more so than Kingsbarn, would be an absolutely complimentary and perfect fit there, in my humble opinion.
One final point to share. I promised I would not mention any of the staff by name, so I won't -- but needless to say they treated my wife and I like long lost family (dare I say like a "prodigal son and daughter," in the midst of the stormy weather of Biblical proportions that we experienced :-) -- sincerely and completely. The team created and gave to us, as gifts, the most memorable days of our vacation. Thank you. And while the green fee may be on the very high side -- if I ever have the opportunity again, I will return here first, before the Portmarnocks and Old Heads of the world. Don D
Went back to enjoy this favourite in August 2016.
Coming back to play it again in much less wind was so much more relaxing. Also interesting to see how the course transfixed and mentally exhausted those in my group who were here the first time. Therefore, the advice must be to make sure you allow for at least two rounds at this fantastic place, especially as the second round will cost a lot less (we paid €70 for our second round).
The first time you will marvel at all the great views over the sea and worry about hazards at almost every shot. The next time you will know which bunkers are truly in play and where to best place your shots to take advantage of the undulating land forms. You will also start appreciating the slightly less spectacular holes.
Everyone I know who has been here absolutely loves this course, just like most reviewers below. One of the reasons why The European is my Dublin no 1 and my Irish East Coast no 2, after Royal County Down, is the ability to play it at your own pace. We asked nicely when phoning to book and followed their advice on when to start. As a result, we have never had to wait on any of three days we have played it. I guess we should be grateful for all who prefer to crowd Portmarnock or The Island (fully booked on the same dates) rather than spend one hour on the motorway to be able to play this links masterpiece!
Finally, if you are the slightest bit interested in golf course photography and architecture, get one of the books Pat Ruddy has written about his own place when in the pro shop! The pictures are superb and the text is full of dry wit in his very personal style. Reading it will make you want to come back very soon, which perhaps is why they price it so keenly or even give it away.
Played it in June 2016. On an excellent weather and light winds. Our 4Ball got two rounds the same day (highly recomended). We loved every single hole, shot, green, fairway, búnker and overall the love you notice it has been put into the course by its creator. Well spent every single euro on playing this golf links. And being able to play it morning and afternoon you have the chance to get a good score on your second round since your mistakes are still fresh from the morning. If you play it you keep in your mind every shot and every thought you had on the tee box. Thank you Ruddy for this beauty you just created!! I will for sure come back pretty soon to The European to enjoy it again. Must Play, no doubts!!
I freely admit to having been charmed by the hour I spent with Pat Ruddy in his 6,500 volume library. But I’d have been impressed with Mr. Ruddy’s golf course even without his hospitality.
My only complaint is his method of getting the player to think off the tee. Many holes simply narrow down in the landing area, pinched in by bunkers or rough. So the choice is simply whether to hit driver or not, rather than using the driver to find the line of charm.
Everything else at The European Club is splendid. The 7th is touted as one of the best 100 holes in the world. It’s a fine hole (though it could not be built under today’s environmental restrictions), but I found half a dozen here I liked even better. These include the 3rd, 9th and 18th, each with challenging tee shots where the ideal line is over a corner bunker. The 13th, with its horseshoe shaped green, is another. I was most impressed to find that this green, like the 127 yarder at the previous hole, are relatively new. Ruddy is not afraid to tweak his masterpiece in search of the title of his fine book: “The Perfect Golf Links”. In this regard Ruddy is a latter-day Donald Ross, constantly thinking about how to improve his course, much as the Dornochman did at Pinehurst #2.
Ruddy continues to make sure his course is playable. One spends more time trying to figure out the next shot than looking for golf balls. The greens are speedy enough but receptive. I even made ball marks—the first in 175 holes on this Ireland trip.
Ruddy’s was one of the earliest of the genre of modern links and stands tall among the many that have followed. I can think of only a handful (Cabot Cliffs, Lost Farm and the Bandon courses) I’d rather play.