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 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.
Played on a sunny yet windy saturday in April 2016. Wonderful tract, friendly staff, hardly anyone on the course. Our best course for four rounds in dublin(by far). Difficult course but beautiful with the Irish Ocean in view and very hilly. Had 2 pints of guiness afterward and enjoyed the day.
Could not have been a better day, even snowed on the way back to dublin !