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, which opened for play in 1993, and he and his family have stayed here ever since. This was a unique experience, a 20-hole links set amongst rugged dunes, until the 20-hole configuration was replicated down under in 2010 at Barnbougle Lost Farm.
Ruddy’s continued involvement with the European Club will no doubt only improve matters; the course is evolving 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 to play 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!”
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.
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 !