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?
This is a problem which has vexed me for years; I first wrote about it in Golf Monthly in 1984.It is, of course,completely dependant on the type(s) of grass found in the sward. In essence, there are three parameters of " ball behaviour " to track : speed, firmness and trueness. Speed is hugely overrated as a measure of quality, and recent research has also shown that the Stimpmeter is simply not fit for purpose. However, speed is still a useful number to monitor regularly, and a new ( reliable )tool will soon be available. Firmness is related to moisture, but crucial in determining the effects of spin on the green. It is measured at least quarterly by a Clegg meter. Which leaves us with the real bugbear : trueness.
Now, I must declare an interest as a member of The R&A Golf Course Committee which has worked to solve this problem. The first step was to build a machine which measures trueness(lateral deviation) and smoothness(vertical deviation). This was developed by the STRI and is regularly used by them ( and by The R&A during The Open). But it does not solve the monitoring issue for the wider game. It is too expensive for most clubs to consider. So we have developed a simple tool which allows replicated putts to be made from distances up to about 12 feet. We have also developed a protocol which is based on replicating 10 successive putts from ( usually ) 6 feet. 10/10 is a perfect score for "reliability" and any club wants to see that 365 days a year. Not always possible, but if the sward itself is of high enough quality, then the test rarely fails. Remedial work on such surfaces e.g. overseeding or aeration may look unsightly on a good fescue/bent sward - but it still passes the test. I have plenty of film to prove it! On bad swards ( usually meadow-grass dominated ) we have often found scores of only 6/10 from 6feet. For 8 months of the year!Imagine playing your golf regularly on such surfaces: 4/10 of your perfectly-hit putts will miss from 6 feet because of defects with the surface. This tool is currently on test in various countries/climates and (subject to results ) The R&A expect both the tool and the protocol to be widely promoted to greenkeepers and clubs early next year.
Now: this is not an attempt to blind with science.I have every sympathy with customers who feel they have not received value for money at a golfing venue. But, as consumers, we are all much better at judging the quality of the chips or the temperature of the beer. What golfers have lacked - for far too long - is a way of judging if they are getting value for money from the putting surface. The reverse of the coin is that club/course managers need to know that they are actually delivering such quality. Subjective comments from golfers who have an off day are about as unhelpful as the guy who wins the monthly medal on greens which are like pegboards. He says the course is wonderful - but we all know it was just his turn to fluke a lot of putts. The only way forward is objective and regular testing of surfaces, with results ( or even film ) which clubs can publish if golfers want to see the evidence... continued below.
Now,finally to Waterville.I did a piece on the course for The R&A website a couple of years ago. I stand by my views at that time. The process of fescue reclamation goes on - and is being done as skilfully as you will find anywhere in GB&I. It is very far from an easy process,but the results over 365 days a year are tremendous. I would agree that visually the overseeding can be an issue at times - but it is not affecting the trueness of the surface from 6 feet. And that is the length of putt which The R&A believes is a fair test of reliability for a green surface. As it happens, this test was first carried out - for the first time anywhere - on 28th March 2011 - at Waterville. And much of the development work has been done there, because the surfaces are so good throughout the whole year. One final point if I may. In my opinion, the owners of the club have done a wonderful job in bringing the course up to where it is now. And it will continue to improve, and it will continue to justify a very high rating. Messrs. Hackett and Mulcahy would be well pleased. Happy to answer any queries from the above, if I can. I don't know who " Epic Fail " is but I'm sure he has done a great service by giving us a chance to open up ( in my opinion )the really crucial issue : the quality of the golf and the golf course. Better understanding of all the issues involved can only help clubs to consistently deliver value for money.
While it is undoubtedly a fine test of links golf (Holes 3,11,12,16-18 being the highlight) located on a beautiful and remote stretch of land the whole experience left me underwhelmed. The course condition was extremely poor. The Greens had recently been cored and sanded which strikes me as strange given we were in the middle of summer/high season. They were at times un-puttable. The fairways/tee boxes were also in poor condition in comparison to other SW Ireland courses we played. It is entirely what you would NOT expect from a Top50 worldwide golf course. Having been a golfer for many years I understand the need for greens to be cored/sanded however It was the Staff’s response which was extremely disappointing. Both the duty manager and pro-shop staff denied there was any issue with the greens. The starter just ignored us when we asked about the quality of greens. Typically a club reliant on its reputation to bring in international visitors at expensive rates would go out of its way to remedy the situation – an apology, reduced green fees, free course guides etc. None of this was forthcoming – only a dismissive attitude from all the staff we attempted to approach.
It is laughable Waterville is marketing itself as a golf “resort” – the changing facilities/showers are without doubt the worst I’ve ever encountered. The food was of a very low quality. The members we spoke to were extremely disappointed. There was no welcome, course introduction, course memento - all of which is strange given management has recently doubled members fees and placed a restriction on numbers in what I can only interpret as a move to “welcome” more high paying international visitors. By all means go and play if you want to tick off another top100 course (various lists are everywhere in the clubhouse) if that’s your aim but prepare to be underwhelmed by the most overrated course on the list.