Top 100 Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland 2016
Our latest Britain & Ireland Top 100 ranking list is unveiled
Two years ago we said we’d whittled down our Britain and Ireland shortlist because it was taking too long to research more than 500 courses. We then had a rush of blood to the head and decided to contact every golf club in Britain & Ireland to help shape our regional/county rankings. The results from this survey have already been published and every regional ranking table (of which there are around 90) has been reordered.
In our recent World Top 100 2016 release, I pointed out that this premier ranking table was complied using a different process from previous iterations, using feedback from many sources. Click here to read the story. This latest Britain & Ireland Top 100 list has been formulated using a combination of a top down (World 100) and bottom up (Regional/County) analysis. This “coming together” has resulted in some significant swings in our new GB&I table.
Two years ago I felt confident I’d now be able to report that one of our team had managed to play the entire Britain & Ireland Top 100. Next time (2018), I’m sure that at least one of our direct team members will have played every course on the list. Brian Ward is closing in on completing the Britain & Ireland “holy grail”, having played 98 courses from our new 2016 rankings – Hankley Common (Up 15) and Ballyliffin (Old) (Up 4) are tantalisingly waiting for Brian to tick them off.
Andy Newmarch is not far behind Brian with only a handful left to play – who will be first I wonder? A dozen or so years ago I needed to play only twenty more courses to complete the Britain and Ireland hundred, but now I still have fifteen on my “to-play” list, in part due to the ever-moving goalposts. However, I’m still working to our original 2004 list and I’ve only got ten left to play from that particular chart – it’s still a poor effort on my part though.
It goes without saying that you need to be dedicated to complete any Top 100 ranking list. You also need a great deal of time and a fair amount of money. I know of only one person who has played the entire GB&I Top 100. Shaun Rhodes completed the task in 2006 and we joined up with him in Ireland to chronicle his achievement. If you’ve played them all, please get in touch with me – I’d love to hear your story.
So what’s new for 2016? Well, quite a lot actually, but Royal County Down (Championship) still heads the table and St Andrews (Old) remains at No.2. However, three courses enter our Top 20 for the first time and they’re all Scottish. Castle Stuart moves up four places to 17th and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed playing this Gil Hanse delight earlier this year. Royal Aberdeen (Balgownie) rises seven places to 18th, while its near neighbour, Trump International jumps eleven places to 20th.
I’m regularly asked which is the best area in Britain & Ireland for golf. The short answer is – it depends. If you love links golf, like I do, the Highlands is one of the (if not the) best golfing destinations in Britain & Ireland. There’s a second course (designed by Arnold Palmer) scheduled to open at Castle Stuart in 2019 and Mike Kaiser (of Bandon Dunes fame) is hatching a plan to build a new course at Embo near Dornoch. Today, the Championship courses at Royal Dornoch (up 1 place to 3rd) and Nairn (up 2 to 42nd) along with Skibo Castle and Brora (a new entry at 100th) and, of course, Castle Stuart, means that the Highlands can boast five links courses in our new Britain & Ireland Top 100 (only Ayrshire and Lancashire can also claim as many top rated links courses in our latest list).
Well over half the layouts on this ranking list are links courses, which is no great surprise, but there are also some wonderful inland courses listed too and three of them are new entries – although Sherwood Forest (in at 95th) and the Old course at Royal Ashdown Forest (in at 99th) are both re-entries.
Hindhead, on the other hand, appears on this table for the first time and it’s straight in at position 82. The Devil's Punchbowl is a large hollow of dry sandy heath to the west of Hindhead (the highest village in Surrey) and the front nine is laid out through these heather and bracken strewn Ice Age valleys, while the back nine plays on a hillside heathland plateau. It’s a truly dramatic setting and I’m delighted Hindhead has finally entered this stellar ranking list to join its Surrey heathland contemporaries – the Hindhead greenkeeping team should take a bow. Incidentally, if you like heathland golf (as I do) Surrey is impossible to beat. There are fourteen courses from this premier English county listed in this latest Top 100.
Southport & Ainsdale (in at 95th) completes our quintet of new additions and makes up the fifth Lancashire links course (alongside Birkdale, Lytham, Formby and Hillside) to feature within this new chart.
Improvements have been made to a number of courses that are upward movers in the rankings: Remedy Oak (up 7) has recently re-laid greens to USGA specification; Renaissance Club (up 17) has built three new holes along the East Lothian coastline; Swinley Forest (up 7) has invested significantly in improved maintenance and has cleared much undergrowth in order to return to firm and fast playing surfaces. Even the much-loved and highly ranked Turnberry, now owned by Trump, undergoes a major facelift. Courses that stand still are in danger of dropping down or even falling off this very competitive ranking list.
An example is the West course at Wentworth (now under Chinese ownership). It’s going backwards at an alarming rate of knots (down 21 to 54th). While the club struggles with the quality of the greens on its flagship course, existing Wentworth members have recently been told they must pay £100,000 in order to remain at the club. My hope is that Wentworth comes through these challenges and injects a little TLC into my favourite course at Virginia Water. You know which one I mean, it’s the one they use for car parking when the big tournaments are played on the West. The East (up 1) is the original Harry Colt course at Wentworth and it’s the only heathland layout that remains at the property. However, without remedial action, it too will end up like the West – more parkland than heathland in nature.
Next door to Wentworth, both courses at Sunningdale stand firm. The Old and New together are quite rightly considered to be the best pair of inland courses in Britain & Ireland, perhaps even the world. I wonder how many Wentworth members now wish they had joined the club next door?
Ballyliffin continues to fly the Irish flag as the only club with more than one course (Glashedy and Old) in the GB&I rankings. Brian Ward is now regretting the fact that he didn’t play the Old course when he last visited Inishowen, because this classic links has consolidated its position (up 4 to 96) in the GB&I rankings. Twenty-two Irish courses appear in the hundred (eighteen from the Republic and four from the North); eight move up, nine go down and five remain in the same position as last time. Ireland continues to punch well above its weight in these rankings.
Once again four Welsh courses appear in the chart, matched course-for-course by Northern Ireland’s quartet. It’s hard to imagine a fifth Welsh course breaking into the GB&I rankings unless something dramatic happens in the Principality. Some might say we’ve missed a trick by omitting the Twenty Ten Ryder Cup course, but it missed selection by some distance – although it will appear in our GB&I second hundred. We’ve continued to fly The Red Dragon flag for Pennard (up 1), which we feel is the Welsh equivalent of England’s St Enodoc (also up 1). Both courses started out following the marker pegs of James Braid and both are routed across hilly ground from where the golf and the views are sparkling.
Two courses narrowly missed selection and both are worthy of mention. James Braid overcame his fear of sea travel to redesign La Moye in Jersey and it shares a common theme with Pennard and St Enodoc in that they were all touched by the five-time Open Champion and all three are laid out on high ground. La Moye has never been ranked in our GB&I listings, but it came close this time. Castletown on the Isle of Man was a regular in our GB&I rankings some years ago but fell out of favour. Castletown and La Moye suffer from being separated from the mainlands of Britain & Ireland but these two courses are serious contenders for inclusion in our 2018 GB&I Top 100. The question is, which courses might they replace?
Feedback is always welcome, so please feel free to let us know what you think of our latest 2016 GB&I Top 100. Please click the “Respond to this article” link at the top and bottom of the page if you’d like to share your opinion. Additionally, if you’ve played an extensive number of Britain & Ireland’s Top 100, please get in touch. We’d love to hear your story.
Over the next few weeks we’ll publish a GB&I second hundred for the first time. Keep an eye out for this release as it promises the odd surprise. Finally, you may be interested to note that thirty-one courses from this latest GB&I ranking table are also listed in our new World Top 100. It’s an impressive achievement considering the size of these diminutive islands.
Click to explore in detail our new 2016 Britain & Ireland Top 100
For those interested, the five courses that made way for the new entries are: Blairgowrie (Rosemount), Adare, Mount Juliet, Belfry (Brabazon) and Bearwood Lakes.
14 November 2015 Respond to this article