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Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland 2018

29 November, 2017

Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland 2018

Having produced updated ranking lists for England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales over the last couple of months, we’ve now gone through the process of merging those national charts then siphoning off the top one hundred courses to create an all-embracing Top 100 table for the geographical location which is commonly known as the British Isles.

Several UK-based members of the Top 100 Team have each played more than 75% of the new GB&I standings but spare a thought for our Midlands and North of England correspondent Brian Ward, who thought he’d recently completed the hundred, only to now discover there’s a Scottish new entry in this edition that he’s not yet played!

For those interested in statistics, the chart contains 45 English courses, 30 Scottish courses, 18 from the Republic of Ireland, 4 from Wales and 3 from Northern Ireland. Overall, 39 courses move up, 34 go down, there are 23 non movers and 4 new entries. The four courses dropping out (Lough Erne, Druids Glen, Moortown and Sherwood Forest) join 34 others which have appeared in at least one of the seven previous editions before falling out of favour.

At the top of the chart, the Championship course at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland retains the number 1 position, holding off four very strong Scottish contenders in positions 2 to 5. It’s been at the top of our chart since 2006 and, quite frankly, something really extraordinary will have to happen to see the course dislodged from the top spot. A reviewer described it like this earlier in the year: “the course once again never ceases to amaze me… RCD is a wonderful golf course not to be missed by those who truly love golf and the magical places and topography upon which it is played.”

There’s not much movement within the Top 20. The “re-born” Ailsa at Trump Turnberry (# 5) swaps places with the Dunluce at Royal Portrush (# 6) – both of these Open venues have just undergone extensive renovations by Martin Ebert – and the New course at Sunningdale (#14) and West course at North Berwick (#15) each advance one position at the expense of the Championship course at Portmarnock (#16). Royal Lytham & St Annes (#18) and the Balgownie at Royal Aberdeen (#19) also switch positions.

Two English courses make it into the Top 30 for the first time. The James Braid-designed Church course at St Enodoc in Cornwall climbs a creditable nine places to number 28 and the Sir Guy Campbell and Major C K Hutchison co-designed layout at West Sussex in Pulborough leaps up eleven spots to number 30. Don’t be at all surprised if these two 18-hole tracks also make a first appearance in our World Top 100 when it’s published next month.

Opened in 2002 and recently remodelled by Martin Hawtree, the Trump International Golf Links at Doonbeg soars an incredible thirty five places to number 41 in our revised Top 100, which is actually the same position it held in the 2006 edition of our GB& I chart. Our correspondent Fergal O’Leary visited the course a couple of months ago and he had nothing but praise for what he found: “I wholeheartedly encourage everybody to visit Trump Doonbeg… the playing conditions, the fun and the beauty are all a sight to behold. Doonbeg is once again ready for the world to arrive.”

A decade ago, the West course at Wentworth occupied a position just outside the Top 20 in these rankings but it took a mighty tumble when we last reappraised the chart two years ago, falling out of the Top 50. After publishing an article back in March entitled The rise and fall of the troubled Burma Road, we think a climb of eight positions in the new chart to number 46 indicates the latest round of renovation work (involving the costly installation of a sub-air system on new bent grass greens) has gone some way toward rekindling affections for this much maligned Harry Colt track.

Also making an impressive leap in the listings (up fourteen to 50), the course at The Island in Donabate, near Dublin, has benefitted from a raft of course improvements in the last few years. Under the direction of course superintendent David Edmonston, the club has returned native links grasses to the playing surfaces, improved its rough management and removed unsightly areas of seabuckthorn to open out vistas over the Malahide estuary. Architect Martin Ebert has also advised on the redesign of a number of fairway bunkers, using a technique called “marram slabbing”.

In the lower half of the new Top 100, the following five courses make substantial positive moves.

Renaissance Club, where the Senior Scottish Open was held this year on the European Senior Tour, rises twelve places to number 55. This Tom Doak design entered the GB&I chart in 2014 at number 84 then advanced to number 67 in 2016 so it’s following a clear path of upward progression. The club doesn’t exactly seek out casual golfers but it does offer a “One Time Experience” which many consider worth the hefty green fee in order to sample the playing privileges for a day at this private members’ club.

Many were concerned when The Machrie closed for extensive remodelling a while back. Essentially, those who had previously played this old Willie Campbell layout on the Isle of Islay were probably thinking this late 19th century layout would lose much of its old-fashioned charm with a modern makeover. Well, we visited just three months ago and were mightily relieved to discover that architect DJ Russell has not just replaced what was there before, he’s vastly improved the links layout with a sympathetic new routing, completely revitalising the old course. Once the new hotel is finished next year, Machrie (up seventeen to number 56) should become a really formidable 21st century links golf destination.

Broadstone in Dorset progresses thirteen positions to number 73. First set out by Tom Dunn in 1898, the course has been modified at various times by the likes of Willie Park Jnr, Herbert Fowler and Harry Colt so there’s never been any doubt about its architectural integrity. Ed Battye, a regular Top 100 reviewer and founder of the Golf Empire website, had this to say about the course six months ago: “Broadstone is a wonderful golf course on a truly amazing property in an area of the country that is quickly establishing itself as a region for top class golf. Traversing some superb golfing terrain it is an idyllic place to play golf with a spaciousness that few other courses can boast.”

The Queen's course at Gleneagles rockets a sensational 24 places up to number 74. We invited four Scottish members from the ranking panel of a leading golf magazine to assist with our biennial chart revision north of the border this year and it was largely their collective opinion that made us realise we’ve been undervaluing this lovely old track for some time now. As a recent reviewer said: “it’s possible, and most likely probably, that the Queen’s at Gleneagles is the best golf course under 6,000 yards. Not just in Scotland, but anywhere” – and we’re not going to argue against that assertion.

The Strand course at Portstewart makes an impressive 17-place upward move to number 76. Numerous course improvements were implemented ahead of the 2017 Irish Open, won by Jon Rahm. New tees have been added and one of the most dramatic is on the 8th hole (“Portnahapple”), which is set on the highest point of the course, from where you can see the adjacent Riverside course and the flowing waters of the River Bann. The club has also installed its own “Big Nellie” bunker on the short par five 14th (“The Hill”), where the tee has been offset to create a sweeping dogleg and an extra 30 yards of length. The back nine cannot compete with the drama of the stellar front nine, but these changes have markedly improved this impressive links course.

There are four new entries in our Britain and Ireland Top 100.

The first of these is Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links (new at number 90), located less than half an hour’s drive to the north of Dublin City centre on the ancestral family estate of the Jameson whiskey family. A mid-1990s co-design from Bernhard Langer and Stan Eby, the course and attached hotel were acquired by new owners in 2014 and a significant level of investment has been made to upgrade the visitor experience both on and off the course here. Links Superintendent Fintan Brennan has overseen the revetting of bunkers, the introduction of turf paths, the implementation of a rough management programme and the return of putting surfaces to fescue dominated grasses.

Two places behind, at number 92, the Old course at Moray in Lossiemouth makes its debut in the GB&I hundred. The Moray Firth area is fast becoming something of a golfing hotspot, what with the championship courses at Royal Dornoch, Castle Stuart and The Nairn all within easy reach of Inverness airport. The 36-hole golf club at Moray lies just a little further away from this triumvirate, between the RAF Lossiemouth base and the Covesea Skerries Lighthouse, so it’s often overlooked by visiting golfers, which is a big mistake. Truth be told, the unpretentious Old and New courses at Moray offer as good a day’s play out on the links as you might find anywhere in Scotland.

New at number 99, the course at West Lancashire dates back to 1873, when the club was founded. A number of prominent architects have made revisions to the layout over the last 144 years, including Ken Cotton and Fred Hawtree in the early 1960s, but it’s the club’s recent appointment of Course Manager Stuart Hogg that has elevated the layout to its new found position among the elite of Britain and Ireland. Stuart’s a firm advocate of the firm and fast game and his staff have carried out lots of little projects around the course to emphasise its link credentials, from reintroducing natural swales around greensites to refurbishing many of the revetted bunkers.

The final new entry arrives at number 100 and it’s Liphook, which is currently the number 1 course in Hampshire and the number 45 in England. Strictly speaking, it’s actually a re-entry into these rankings as it featured in our inaugural chart back in 2004 at #96 before making another brief appearance at #94 in 2010. First opened for play as an 18-hole layout in 1923, the course was designed by Arthur Croome, a partner in the architectural firm of Fowler, Abercromby, Simpson and Croome. It’s a charming heathland layout that’s much appreciated by golfing connoisseurs who don’t mind travelling the extra mile to savour the delights of such a delightful, understated course.

We welcome feedback when we produce new rankings so please feel free to share your opinion of our new Top 100 for Britain & Ireland. Is there a top track that we’ve overlooked or is there a layout included that really has no business being there? Maybe a certain course is resting on its laurels or there’s one that should be higher in the standings? Whatever your view, click the “Respond to this article” link at the bottom of the page to let us know what you’re thinking.


To view the complete detailed list of the 2018 Britain & Ireland Top 100 click the link.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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