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Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland 2020

19 November, 2019

Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland 2020

Welcome to the 9th edition of our Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland, a ranking list that we have published biennially since 2004. Statistically, this latest version consists of 45 English courses, 30 Scottish layouts, 17 from the Republic of Ireland, 4 in Wales, 3 in Northern Ireland and one from the Isle of Man.

Only fifteen courses occupy the same position as last time which means there are quite a few fluctuating fortunes to contend with, whether it be a rise in prospects or a fall from grace. Seven layouts drop out completely, joining thirty-eight others that have previously featured in this prestigious listing.

All told, fifty-three courses either move up, remain in the same position or are new entries (versus fifty-four that move down or out) so although there’s something of a balancing act going on here, we’re only too aware that it’s virtually impossible to keep everybody happy with the final outcome.

One of the non-movers is the Championship course at Royal County Down which has been our No. 1 since it took over from the Old Course at St Andrews during the first revision of our chart in 2006. Today’s layout has evolved quite a bit since Old Tom Morris extended it to eighteen holes in 1890, with architectural input down the years from the likes of Harry Vardon, Harry Colt and Donald Steel crafting the course into the classic links that’s so highly regarded around the golfing world.

Royal County Down Golf Club - Championship course

Seven of the eight reviews posted this year were of the 6-ball variety, with comments like: “this place really does deserve its lofty position in the UK rankings… I simply want to re-iterate how brilliant the course is [with] elements of many of my other favourite courses… as there is no 7-ball rating can all my other previous rankings be moved down by one ball please?”

Two courses on the Open rota make serious bids for the No. 1 crown and they’re both layouts that have recently undergone major renovations by architect Martin Ebert.

Trump Turnberry - Ailsa course

The Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry climbs three places to the runner-up slot in the new chart. Newly installed as our No.1 course in Scotland, the Ailsa twice came close to extinction after Turnberry was turned into an airbase during both World Wars but, thanks largely to Philip Mackenzie Ross resurrecting the layout in the late 1940s, the course went on to hold four editions of the Open between 1977 and 2009. A substantial financial investment by the new owner in 2015 has now enabled the resort to fully realise its potential, both on and off the course.

Royal Portrush Golf Club - Dunluce course

The Dunluce course at Royal Portrush rises two places to No. 4 in our revised standings. Host to the 80th edition of the Open in 1951, the course was thought by many to be a one-off venue for this event. Thankfully, the R&A had other ideas and the replacement of the old 17th and 18th on the Dunluce with new holes fashioned from the adjacent Valley course was an important factor in the revitalised layout surpassing all expectations this year when the Open returned to Portrush.

Three courses make favourable upward moves in the top half of the table.

The Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa (up five to #21) has completed an extensive upgrade which involved clearing areas of undergrowth, removing trees and remodelling the infamous bunkers. Our US Consultant Fergal O’Leary had this to say after visiting: “some holes are truly unrecognizable due to the tree clearance... the heather that lines the fairways continues to get healthier… the course oozes good health and has a wide open feel in places… the results are not to be missed.”

Woodhall Spa Hotchkin course

Royal Cinque Ports (up five to #31) has also just finished a programme of course developments, most notably the alteration of the 16th hole to a par five with a split fairway. Improvements to the layout are ongoing, actually, and others could learn a lot about presentation skills from the excellent blog on the club’s website from Course Manager James Bledge who engages golfers in all the green keeping activities out on the course.

Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club

The West course at Wentworth (up thirteen to #33) makes a comeback of Lazarus proportions, following yet another multi-million pound renovation, part of which included the installation of sub-air systems on every green. This 18-hole layout was ranked at No. 54 in 2016 after losing its way somewhat but it’s certainly on the right track now after several sizeable bouts of capital spending.

Wentworth Club - West course

In the bottom half of the listings, another three courses make good progress.

Sandy Hills at Rosapenna (#53) and Gullane No.1 (#60) both move forward six places, while the largest jump in the chart is made by the Arthur Croome-designed Liphook, which soars from No.100 to No. 78. Tom Mackenzie is consulting here on a three-phase upgrade project designed to alleviate the problem caused by having to cross a local road during a round and work is set to continue for a while longer.

Liphook Golf Club

For now, our man Fergal thinks Liphook is grossly underrated, remarking that it has “some of the most stunning settings for golf with awe-inspiring green locations. The trees frame the holes so beautifully and it truly feels like you’re walking in paradise. The peaceful isolation and brilliant playing conditions warrant huge congratulations to the green keeping staff… Liphook would be a club I would join in a heartbeat if I lived in the south of England.”

It’s time to take a look at the new entries now.

The highest newcomer is Ardfin at No. 27, having made an entrance into our Scottish Top 100 at #12, and this 18-hole layout lies within an enormous private estate on the Isle of Jura in the Inner Hebrides. Designed by Bob Harrison for a fellow Antipodean owner, the course was constructed by Irish contractor SOL on a cliff top site overlooking the Sound of Jura and in many ways it’s something of a modern day golfing miracle as many of the fairways were carved from thick peat and large quantities of building materials such as sand, gravel and turf had to be shipped in. The results of these herculean endeavours are simply stunning.

Ardfin Golf Course

Not many people have set foot on the Ardfin course so far but we understand non-resident play will be available from Easter onwards next year, affording inquisitive golfers the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.

Adare Manor at No. 64 returns to our GB&I Top 100 after dropping out in 2016 to make way for an extensive makeover from Tom Fazio. Originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the mid-1990s, the course has been virtually rebuilt by Atlantic Golf Construction with the installation of a new drainage network, the sand capping of fairways and the introduction of new greens with SubAir systems. It’s also fair to say that conditioning on the 135 acres of maintained grass is now second to none anywhere.

Adare Manor

Earlier this year, it was announced that the Ryder Cup will return to Ireland in 2026, when Adare Manor will host the biennial contest between the professional players of Europe and the USA. JP McManus, owner of Adare Manor, said: “I am delighted that the prestigious Ryder Cup will return to Ireland. We were very happy that Adare Manor was chosen as the venue for this world renowned tournament in 2026 and we look forward to welcoming our worldwide visitors.”

A handful of courses enter as a little cluster near the foot of the new standings and the first of these is Delamere Forest (#93) in Cheshire, which has just concluded a six-year programme to restore the heathland layout back to the 1910 design intent of architect Herbert Fowler. Not far behind, JCB Golf & Country Club (#95) in Staffordshire is a European Golf Design layout from architect Robin Hiseman that has been built on a grand scale with big tournament ambitions for its owners.

Delamere Forest Golf Club

Parkstone advanced one place to the runner-up position in the recent county revision for Dorset which translated into a four-position upward move in the English listings. That’s now enough to get this undervalued Willie Park Junior design into our GB&I Top 100 at No.97. One spot behind, Castletown on the Isle of Man re-enters at No. 98, having previously appeared in our chart for six years from 2004. Under new ownership, the club is making great efforts to recapture its former glory days.

Castletown Golf Links

Our final new entry arrives at No. 99 and it’s the Shore and Dunes nines at Prince’s in Kent. Here’s a great example of how a club can totally improve its profile by appointing the right architect with a good contractor to maximise the prospects of what was, admittedly, a very good golfing property. And with the right person at the helm to steer enhancements in the right direction, Prince’s is positive proof that proper economic outlay can reap the recognition it deserves.

Prince's Golf Club - Shore course new 5th hole


To view the entire detailed list of our latest Britain & Ireland Top 100 click the link.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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