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!”
The Ruddy family and everyone at The European Club made me feel very welcome. I played here three times during this trip because The European has relatively little play which allowed me to truly enjoy the challenge of playing this great links in its fabulous setting. By playing on different days got to experience the winds from different directions which made me appreciate how differently the holes can play. I did enjoy the placement of the railway sleeper bunkers throughout the links and they are certainly hazards but are very fair. My last day bought the "Perfect Golf Links" by Pat Ruddy which gave me much insight into his design of the links. For this review will use the distances from the white tees.
The front nine includes two par threes; the second hole which measures 148 yards, and the 177 yard sixth hole. The second is protected by four bunkers in front so it is essential to hit enough club while the sixth requires accuracy as it has a large bunker short and right and is protected on the left by a lateral water hazard. The third hole is the lone par 5 on the front that measures 481 yards. A nice risk/reward hole with great views that can be reached in 2 but the green is protected by 3 well placed bunkers. The distances on the six par fours on the front range from the 363 yard first to the 449 yard seventh. I thought the seventh was the most difficult and a great hole. The first is a relatively easy hole with a drive down the left side preferable and a green that is well protected by bunkers with a narrow run up area on the right side of the green. The 402 yard eighth was the only hole without any bunkers but the towering dunes the length of the hole made this one of my favorites. The fourth (426 yards), fifth (398 yards), and ninth (402 yards) are all fair, solid holes with excellent bunkering while being framed by the dunes.
The back nine includes one par 3, the 160 yard 14th, which was one of my favorites as it is framed by sand dunes and is protected by two bunkers short right of the green and also on the left and back of the green. The 503 yard 13th was the lone par 5 on the back that has an elevated tee with the Irish Sea down the entire right side of the fairway and of course many well placed bunkers the length of the hole. The green was probably the most interesting of all as it has two separate sections of greens with a bunker in the middle. The seven par fours range in distance from the 379 yard eleventh to the 438 yard twelfth. The tenth and eleventh holes are both good tests with excellent bunkers and again framed by the dunes. The twelfth is an excellent hole that has the Irish Sea on the entire right side and could play over 500 yards if the pin is placed on the back of the green which measures 127 yards from the front to the back -- definitely the longest green I have ever played. The 379 yard fifteenth is framed with the Irish Sea on the right and four fairway bunkers on the left with bunkers on the front right and left protecting the elevated green. The downhill 399 yard 16th is framed by four fairway bunkers on the right and one on the left. The 389 yard seventeenth has an elevated tee and is the other hole on the links without any bunkers. It is framed by towering sand dunes and is another solid hole. The 425 yard dogleg left eighteenth is a strong finishing hole with the tee shot protected by 6 fairway bunkers on the right and one on the left. Short of the green is a slivering burn that will gobble up shots short of the green.
The two extra holes on the links were number 7a at 120 yards and number 12a at 160 yards. Both excellent short holes that look like they were both just meant to be here and it was nice to play the extra holes.
The European Club was enjoyable to play and would highly recommend it to any golfer that wants to challenge a modern classic links in this fabulous setting. Definitely want to play here again. Click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMFjgmGi-Q8 to see a You Tube slideshow of some pictures I took during my visit. Jim Brady
Time for a confession - I've enjoyed reading the reviews on this site for the last few years, without ever feeling the need to contribute any reviews of my own. For that, my apologies. 36 holes at The European Club this weekend (and 18 at Portmarnock) force me to write my first review. I've played golf for 20 years, and have been lucky to play many of the best over this time... RCD & Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, The Old Course, Royal Dornoch and Turnberry in Scotland, Royal Lytham, Ganton, Woodhall Spa. Each year we visit Ireland, and enjoy being beat up at places like Ballyliffin, Rosses Point, Enniscrone, Carne, Murvagh. I've never had as much fun playing golf as I did playing The European!
Others have written detailed hole by hole reviews much better than I ever could, so I won't add another here. All I will say, is that this place made me go 'Wow' more than anywhere I can remember. I've never played anywhere which asks you more questions on the tee... what club, what line, which bunker to aim at (or away from!). That's if you divert your eyes away from the magnificent views which are afforded from almost all tees! The way the holes are framed is spectacular. Miss a green with your approach, and the beautiful cavernous bunkers await. The greens are a delight to putt on, and were as good as anywhere we've played this year... and it was the first week in November!! The course beat us up big time, and we'll be back as often as we can to see if we can get even!
I've also got to confess to being a bit of a traditionalist, and love the clubhouses/history of Ganton, Portmarnock etc, which The European doesn't have... yet. I've surprised even myself choosing this over The Old Course's storied links, Ross's upturned saucers at Dornoch, or those amazing shaggy bunkers at RCD. I'm sure this place will evolve and continue to grow and write its own history. What is does have is the most unique visitor experience I've encountered anywhere. Mr Ruddy (and everyone else here) granted us the warmest of welcomes, shared several stories, and advice on how to tackle his beloved links. If I'm lucky to enjoy a long retirement, and one which involves being able to play lots of golf, this is the type of place I'd like to spend it. For me, the best overall experience in GB & Ire... and my new number 1.
I had no problem booking tee times online on Monday through Thursday, but had a problem on the weekend. Since the European was within an hour drive of Dublin and south of the city, sent some emails to the Ruddy family and wanted to know if we could play their links on the weekend. The family was very hospitable and welcomed us to play on Sunday July 24th and on Wednesday the 27th. We booked the tee times for 2:00 pm on both days. The family even gave us directions how to get to the links and said it was an easy drive. It was and a very nice ride it was.
We arrived about 2 hours early for the tee time and hit some balls on the range. Found the Ruddy family to be the best hosts one could have for playing their links. They did make sure we enjoyed our stay. Talked to an long-time member at the range who wanted to know where we were playing on our trip. Advised we were playing The European on Sunday and Wednesday, St. Anne's on Monday, Seapoint on Tuesday, and 36 holes at Portmarnock on Thursday. He wasn't sure why we wanted to play anywhere else, but thought it would be a good idea to play some other links. He said he hit the first shot on the European and was good friends with Mr. Ruddy. He said Mr. Ruddy placed bunkers wherever he hit his shots. He also recommended when we get to number 12 green that we try to putt the ball from the front of the green and try to hit it off the back of the green. He said to try and even Tiger Woods could not putt the ball off the back of the green. The green is 127 yards long and it is the longest green in the world -- longer by 9 yards than the longest double-green at St. Andrews. Why such a long green you may ask -- but why not -- it is Mr. Ruddy's links and the setting with the Irish Sea is beautiful. And a good place to take fantastic pictures. By the way, only got the ball within about 20 yards from the back. Did putt the ball off the front from the back -- it was downhill which made it easier but still took quite a putt. For sure my longest putt ever.
When we played on Sunday, we virtually had the course to ourselves and could enjoy the challenge of all the holes and the beauty of the Irish Sea and Brittas Bay. I made a video slideshow for the Wednesday round that is included in this review. For the links that we played, The European was definitely the most scenic. It is also a very challenging links as the links record is a 67 by Tiger Woods. Rory McIlroy nearly matched Tiger with a 70 in the 2006 Irish Men's Amateur Close Championship qualifier. Rory went on the win the match play Championship at The European Club.
The condition of the links was excellent. I see many of the reviewers compare The European with Portmarnock. Both are excellent in their own unique ways. Portmarnock, established in 1894, has a great history on its side and is definitely a great and challenging links. The bunkers at Portmarnock are sod bunkers while The European has railway sleeper bunkers. Old Tom Morris couldn't have done better. Mr. Ruddy feels bunkers are hazards and they are definitely hazards. The fairway bunkers were difficult at both links as sideways or backwards was a common option. The greenside bunkers were more difficult to hit out of at The European than Portmarnock. Sideways or backwards was an option more at the European. I felt the greenside bunkers at Portmarnock were relatively easier than the European. As far as conditioning, both were excellent and could not easily determine if one was better than the other.
The European was opened for play on December 26, 1992. It is already a great links with an even brighter future with Mr. Ruddy committed to make design changes to reflect the modern golfer, which is ever changing, for the rest of his life. Even though Portmarnock was opened 98 years before the European, this links will have the next 100 years to show its excellence and grow as the game continually progresses over the years.
All of the holes at the European stand out as great holes on their own. Some are ranked higher in the rankings as the seventh is ranked among the top 100 holes in the world. I felt several holes at The European were just as good or better than the seventh. The bunkers are easily visible and sometimes a shot straying slightly off the fairway just seems to sink into the landscape. Make sure you keep a good line on the ball if it is off line. At Portmarnock did not lose a ball for 36 holes. At The European did lose some balls, but the landing areas are generous with well thought out shots. Would highly recommend The European Club for any golfing trip to Ireland. Visitors will be warmly welcomed by the Ruddy family and the links is definitely a pleasure to play. Someday hope to play both The European Club and Portmarnock Golf Club again. Jim Brady