The town of Waterville is a famous angling centre, located on a strip of land that separates the Atlantic Ocean from one of the most beautiful lakes in Ireland, Lough Currane. The name Waterville, or An CoireÁn (Little Whirlpool), is the premier coastal tourist centre of South West Kerry. Every year, Charlie Chaplin came to Waterville with his family, and they have named the annual two-day AM-AM after him. The AM-AM has been held since 1984, a two-day golfing extravaganza involving teams from all over Ireland. It also involves a certain amount of merriment!
Golf at Waterville started around 1889 with a modest 9-hole course, laid out on the eastern section of the present course. In the 1950s, the club folded until Jack Mulcahy (an Irish American) bought the links in the late 1960s. Mulcahy commissioned Claude Harmon, his friend and the 1948 Masters champion and Eddie Hackett, Ireland’s most prolific architect, to design a new course. In 1973, the “beautiful monster” course at Waterville opened for play. Tom Fazio was subsequently commissioned to update the course.
Waterville plays on a promontory surrounded by the sea. It’s a stunning, remote location with views to the northeast of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range and to the southwest across the beautiful Ballinskelligs Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The fairways are gently undulating, the front nine plays across relatively flat ground whilst the back nine weaves its way through avenues of tall dunes. The view from the elevated 17th tee, an excellent par 3 called “Mulcahy’s Peak” after the founder Jack Mulcahy, is simply breathtaking.
There are few courses that can boast such a fine collection of unique and great golf holes. Waterville has three outstanding par threes and three excellent par fives, the par fours are pretty good too. The 11th is a heavenly short par five with a rippling fairway protected on both flanks by towering dunes. The 366-yard par four 16th was once called “Round the Bend” because it follows the natural curvature of the Atlantic coastline. It was here that Liam Higgins, the local pro, had a hole-in-one on his way to setting a course record of 65. Fittingly, the hole is now called “Liam’s Ace”.
The remote location of the Waterville links has precluded it from hosting any big competitions, but many famous golfers find their way here and they all leave with the feeling that Waterville is a very special place.
Payne Stewart was due to be Honorary Captain of Waterville in 2000. Tragically, in October 1999 he died when his private jet crashed in South Dakota. A bronze statue pays tribute to him and his affiliation with Waterville.
Top 10 logo in golf. Magical setting, and less extreme than some of the other courses in the region like Ballybunion or Tralee. Every hole is good but somewhat in memorable. I played it twice and only remember 2-3 holes. I remember 6-7 holes at Tralee after only one outing.
One of the best courses out there, the course is amazing and hardly has any faults. Its a proper links test with the best set of closing holes i have played (16,17,18). Fantastic course, worth the trip.
Where to start? Waterville is a special place. Awareness is a component, but it was the most spiritual I have ever felt playing golf. Does that have to do with the Mass Hole? Perhaps. The same sense came over my wife and I as we were having cocktails watching the sunset. The track starts slow but has a glorious finish. I highly recommend it. I am delighted that I was not there in the summer of 2012. The hospitality was fantastic both at the course and the lodge.
Great links. Fair, demanding, scenic, great staff very friendly
This was my 1st Ireland Golf Links course and what a course to start with. Played it on Wednesday when the weather was dry and even the sun came out to shine.
This course is a bit of a trek to get to but it is so worth the effort. I have read some of the 'older' reviews from a few years ago and whatever course they were playing on, it couldn't have been the same as the one I played Wednesday. This was golfing heaven.
We were based in Killarney so about a hour and 1/4 away and our SatNav took us through the back roads and over the pass to Waterville. Whilst not to be recommended for the faint hearted the views from the top of the pass down to the sea were well worth taking the more precarious route.
The course is framed by the Ring Of Kerry, a spectacular setting with the sea to the front and the mountains acting as a spectacular backdrop. The course dates back to 1889 and whilst it has had various changes with latest by Tom Fazio, the remoteness, the brooding nature of the mountains, even the fantastic new clubhouse adds to the remote brooding feeling. You know you are arriving at something special.
Infact it isn't until you reach the 17th tee and stand from the vantage poin, Mulcaheys Peak, overlooking the entire property and being able to take in what is such a wonderful piece of links land, that you realise how special it is and how the original designers must have felt when viewing if for the 1st time.
The clubhouse is modern but befitting to the surroundings. A friendly welcome was received, especially from Keven the starter. There are good practice facilities, for your driver and irons, as well as 2 putting greens and short pithing area.
The only downside was that we had to play from the 1st cut, which felt unfair as your drives on the fairway weren't rewarded and some of the positions from the 1st cut weren't then the best angles into the greens. But it is Winter and at EUR75 compared with the Summer rate, a bargain.
There wasn't a weak hole. The par 3's were superb, my favourite being the Mass Hole, partly due to the difficulty of it as we played into a strong wind but also the story behind it. And that's good part about the course as well. You get little plaques dotted around giving history and insight. Of course the statue to Stewart Payne is one you have to have your photo with.
The course heads out towards the estuary for the 1sr 2 holes and therefore the wind was relatively light. It remained this way until about the turn. The course for the 3rd hole runs along the Estuary and then you come to a really good par 3, par 5, par 3 run as the course reaches it's first turning point after the 4th par, a wonderful shaped hole through towering sand dunes. It then wends its way back towards the clubhouse for the 5th, 6th and 7th before turning for the 8th and again back to the clubhouse for the 9th. I loved the routing. You get confused whereabouts you are on the property as the course weaves in and around itself.
The greens were slower than Cork the previous day but ran true and were imo in good condition for the time of year. There were plenty of green staff working on the fairways, ready for the Spring.
The 10th then starts back from the clubhouse and is on the Sea side of the property so the winds pick up. This part of the course is more exposed and rugged with higher dunes. Infact as we were discussing the round afterwards over a Guiness and lunch in the beautiful clubhouse, we agreed that you were required to focus on every shot, partly due to the wind, but because the length of the course meant so many of the par 4's were around 400 yards and with cleverly placed bunkers and routing you could not afford to lose your concentration once. By the way, the bunkers have had reeds planted on the top of them and when these have grown a little, you will need another 2-3 feet of height to clear them and make a successful bunker exit.
The course then to's back and forth before you reach the closing stretch 15-18. My favourite was the 16th where again there is a plaque to Liam Higgins who drove the hole for a hole in one on his way to a 65, the course record. It's a beautiful hole sweeping right to left with the coast and sea on the right, played to a green above you and upon arriving at, with the sun shining, views to die for. Then you get to the 17th and the vantage point across the course. The 17th is again a lovely looking par 3, playing long given the stiff breeze with a large green sloping back to front, with a steep fall away to the left hand side. Then the 18th which appears the narrowest of all the holes we played as the sea is on the right and so oob is on your mind. Stay left and 3 really good strikes and you may just get your par. At 566 yards into a wind it was the longest par 5 on the course and played as if it was even further.
Such a strong finish.
Absolute class course, well worthy of the effort to get there and one which leaps into the Top 5 Courses I have played to date. Would love to play this again in the Summer although I'm not sure we would get better weather than we have just had in February!
I really like Waterville Golf Links, originally designed by Eddie Hackett (primarily) with some input from Claude Harmon, and updated by Tom Fazio, for its wonderful location, views, but more so for the quality of the golf course. The course builds and builds as you work your way through the golf holes with each hole seemingly better than the one just played. It will keep your interest throughout the round while constantly posing questions as to the type of shot to hit, particularly since there is usually a generous amount of wind and the course has numerous defenses.
The course reminds me of Ballybunion Old in that the better land is on the back nine of the course where the dunes are higher and the views of the ocean are better. One’s interests and enjoyment of the golf course go up exponentially on the back nine due to the variation in terrain. The routing takes full advantage of the terrain which leads to substantial differences in the look of each hole. The back nine is about as good as golf can be and rivals anywhere else in the world. The dunes are not overwhelmingly large on the back nine; they are tall and wide enough to peak one’s interest and provide a true challenge. On the back nine the green sites are located perfectly for the land and require careful thought when considering the shot necessary to land on them.
When I first played Waterville I found that the front nine had adequate yardage and holes that fit the land, yet the front nine was bland and not as interesting both visually and from a challenge standpoint.
The front nine, after the renovations by Mr. Fazio, is a good reason why I think about routings so much. Mr. Fazio flipped the previous sixth and seventh holes, which played as 4-371/343 and 3-178/155 and now play as 3-194/166 and 4-424/404. The holes are simply better and close the gap a bit between the front and the back nine. That is a gap that can never be closed unless the owners decided to truck in dirt and sand to manufacture dunes.
Overall it is a brilliant routing, starting counter-clockwise, then clockwise, then back and forth for the front nine, with the back nine clockwise finishing counter-clockwise. While on many links courses this would seem to guarantee that one does not always play into the wind or with the wind at one’s back, at Waterville the wind can shift 3-4 times during a round so it might result in a favorable wind or an unfavorable wind for the entirety of the round. There are doglegs moving in each direction as well as tucked greens, raised greens, and flat greens.
It is also interesting that some of the names of the holes changed from when I first played Waterville.
3 – Innyside – now Sanctuary
6 – Heaven’s Highway – now Inny Valley
7 – The Bog – now Teacher
8 – Ponderous – now Hare
10 – Bottleneck – now Red Breast
13 – The Twin – now Meadow Lark
The yardages are now 7378, 6810 and 6330. As I have said on some other courses, there should be a combo tee at 6500 yards. A yardage of 6549 existed when I first played the course in 1997.
Mr. Fazio, who is often known for his prowess in the placement of bunkers as well as the number and the size of them, did a nice job in his renovation of Waterville of not overdoing the number and size of bunkers. He deferred to the natural landscape, taller grasses, uneven lies, and wind to provide the main defenses to the course. If he felt restrained, then I am glad he did as I think his usage of bunkers is right for this golf course.
The greens as a whole do not have the undulations that one will find on many of the other highly rated golf courses in Ireland. Many of them are large which is in tune with both the length of the course and likelihood that a game will be accompanied by a higher level of wind given the location along the water. There are good slants to them but they are not difficult to read and correctly judge the pace.
The first is a fine golf hole, not overwhelmingly difficult despite the out-of-bounds down the right side.
When I first played Waterville, the second hole was named one of the best in Ireland by Christy O’Connor Jnr, (I think but could have been Sr.) is a hole that has many obstacles thrown at you. There is a burn/creek well off to the right that separates the course from farmer’s fields that are out-of-bounds. Six bunkers line the right side of the fairway and are very much in play for players of different lengths. Two more bunkers are on the left of the fairway. Three more await at the green. The green sits in front of the water which is very much in play for a shot struck with too much force. When I first played this hole, I was very disappointed and thought it was one of the least interesting and easiest on the course and wondered what might have been going through O’Connor’s mind when he made that statement. This was partially due to there being bushes behind the green blocking the view of the water. Now it is a very good golf hole but clearly not one of the finest in Ireland.
I like the third hole much more than the first two with its green built out to the right requiring an approach shot to carry over water. On this third hole, there are five bunkers spaced beautifully down the left side of the fairway to catch those trying to play the hole too conservatively away from the water as it goes the length of the hole on its right. It is a marvelous view and walk as you play this hole. A dune rises behind the green along with a solitary bunker perfectly placed at the back near the middle of the green to catch those who hit a longer shot into the green. The only weakness to the third hole is that the green is not as interesting as it could be, but its understandable given all of the defenses to the hole before arriving on the green.
As much as I like the third hole, I like the fourth even more hitting down from an elevated tee to this longish par 3 nestled in the dunes with four perfectly placed bunkers surrounding the green. It is an excellent par 3 both visually and in actuality.
The fifth is a long par 5 that is almost unchanged from when I played it in 1997. From the back tee it is still 595 yards but the “member” tee has been pushed back to 551 instead of 525. Playing from the top of a dune this is a lovely dogleg right with some well-placed fairway bunkers and a fairway lined on the right with bushes finally ending at a very nice undulating green with small bunkers scattered around the front.
Looking from the tee, the par 3 sixth hole is arguably the least interesting on the golf course. This “heart” shaped green is framed by the bushes behind the green. It is not an easy hole but one knows the shot that must be made. The hole would be better visually without these bushes, but they are likely necessary since the third tee box is right behind the sixth green. This hole is superior to the previous par 3 seventh.
The sharp dogleg right seventh par 4 is superior to the par 4 sixth that preceded it. There are three bunkers at the turn with two on the right to catch those who try to carry them to shorten the hole as well as one on the left for the longer hitter trying to play a bit safer. The green complex has two bunkers left and is a very good undulating green with nice swales near it.
The eighth hole slightly moves to the left and has well placed bunkers and mounds on either side. Although I liked the third hole more, that it likely due to its setting along the water. In terms of the quality of the hole itself, I find the eighth hole to be the best on the front nine.
The ninth has an elevated tee playing to a generous fairway as you play back to the clubhouse. There is a bunker on either side of the fairway that the tee shots must avoid twith the left one both large and infringing into the fairway. The hole plays as a slight dogleg right.
The tenth is a long par 4 with a green site nestled below the dune line. The dunes are high on the left side of the fairway and the hole is routed to take perfect advantage of them as a defense. It is a terrific start to the back nine as the fairway narrows with two bunkers right as you near the green.
The eleventh is a short par 5 swinging to the right with a narrower looking fairway than it actually is due to the dunes that are on the left through to the back of the green. The dunes start on the right after you pass the maintenance buildings and these right hand dunes merge up at the back of the green to create a wonderful setting for the green which sort of angles away from you to the left.
The twelfth is the famous “mass’ hole where religious services were held in a sheltered dell/valley lower than the peaks of the dunes near them as they were forbidden at the time. It is a beautiful setting although it is a hole that does not require much decision-making as to the choice of club or type of shot. The decision is simply to choose enough club for the wind conditions and flight a ball right at the center of the green. The small front bunker on the right of the green is the only defense to be avoided. One walks up to the top of the dune and has to strike a shot to carry the ball all the way to the green situated at the top of another dune. Anything slightly short of the large green will tumble down the hill with luck involved wherever the ball comes to a rest. The green appears to be slightly uphill from the tee and the green has some meaningful amount of vegetation behind it.
The thirteenth is a splendid short par 5 that is a double dogleg with the fairway tilting left but with the green set off to the right. This hole has an ideal number and placement of bunkers with two left and three right off the tee followed by two more left and one right short of the green and then three more at the front of the green. For a “short” par 5, it has decisions to be made.
Fourteen is a reverse of the thirteenth hole as the green is set off to the left. It is well bunkered hole from the tee to the green. This is one of the more difficult holes as a long par 4 especially if the pin is back left because only from the right side of the fairway can one see the pin due to a high dune blocking the view. Adding to the difficulty is the green being raised into the side of the dune and fronted by two deep bunkers set back a bit from the green but with two bushes on the left as well.
As good as the previous holes on the back nine have been, the fifteen might be better than all of the previous ones as a gentle double dogleg, first left than right, going back towards the ocean with the hole set among the dunes. The hole feels very inland until you arrive at the slightly raised green and recognize where you are on the course.
The sixteenth starts a remarkable stretch of the three finishing holes. Liam Higgans, the head pro from Waterville, had an ace on the sixteenth years ago but the hole used to play 350 from the back tees. I doubt there are many people driving the green on this hole anymore due to the additional length where it is now 386 yards. The sixteenth is a short par 4 with a wide fairway that has continuous small dunes running down the left side of the fairway. Some of these dunes are sculpted so sharply they look like they have edges to their peaks. About 75 yards short of the green there is a large, deep valley from the left center of the fairway continuing off to the left. If you end up in the valley you will have a blind pitch to the green. There is a deep valley fronting the right side of the green leading to a steeper fall off; you do not want to miss the green to the right. The 40 yard long green is gently sloped back to front and left to right.
The seventeenth is a terrific par 3 playing from the highest point on the golf course with tremendous, beautiful views from the tee of the mountains and the bay. You will want to stand on this tee for a long time to take in the view. It is a longer hole at 194 but it provides a break from the member tees at 168. The locals say the hole can play differently every hour as the wind shifts. If you “top” your shot you will end up in a valley. If short of the green you will roll back down a bit into wispy grass but will have a chance to save par. The green has fall offs front left and to the left with flatter ground to the right of the green. If one misses the green, then getting up and down is not likely as the green is sneaky.
The longer par 5 finishing hole is straight with the strand always lurking on the right side. It is magnificent view as you walk it and a magnificent golf hole. From the tee the fairway looks very narrow but there is ample room. There are a few scattered bunkers on both sides as you work your way towards the large green. The fairway gives way to a fall off down the left side for your second shot. There are also mounds of dunes going down either side of the fairway and if you land in them, the lie for a clean shot can be very uncertain. If on the right side of the fairway for your approach shot, the right side of the green will be blind to you. The hole is difficult due to length of 594/556 and often with a big wind to consider, but I do wish it had a slightly more undulating green. It is a magnificent finish.
Waterville Golf Links is certainly in the discussion as to the best golf course in Ireland. I think there are three that can be discussed, others might extend it to six. Either way, it is not to be missed. The drive along the Ring of Kerry is one of the finest in the world which is befitting since it takes you to one of the finest golf courses in the world, where you should play it two-four times.
Waterville - A long way down but worth the trip (Nov ‘19) this course does pose a variety of risks and rewards and equally test length, accuracy and finesse while still being very fair -- as fair as a links can be and one can see why it is so popular with visitors.
No reviews on site since 2015 having read some woeful ones I got nervous as I had it on my bucket list for years. Should I have read the reviews before I booked? Can 16,000 golfers per annum be misguided?? Anyway the good news is the greens etc have been fixed. One must admire the design variety which has great memorability, aesthetics and ambiance. It is a shot makers course where the golfer can hit the ball and enjoy the walk after it where the scenic values of the course add to the pleasure of your round. The holes have great variety in differing lengths, configurations, hazard placements, green shapes and green contours.
The design features provide individuality to each hole yet a collective continuity to the entire course. Movement around the course did occur naturally giving a very pleasant transition. The scenic values of the course add to the pleasure of the round starting at the third and really spectacular all the way round. The only shortcoming being the 12th hole an elevated par three.
On the day we played the course the fairways were sanded which was fair enough but the ball travelled and the greens were firm yet receptive and the roll of putts was true.
The overall feel and atmosphere of the course did reflect the modern values of the game. At # 2 in Kerry and # 5 in Ireland we would give it # 1 yes top spot in Ireland having played all the top 10 recently >> 9.9 /10. pd Nov 2019
No one misses the Ring of Kerry and neither did we. Although the Ring of Beara (hidden gem – the Uragh stone circle!) and the Ring of Dingle are every bit as nice, but Killarney certainly is the tourist centre of the region with services for every budget. And from there a leisurely and scenic two-hour drive will take you to Waterville. Click the link to read more… Ireland – any decent golf on the West Coast?