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​Top 100 Golf Courses of the Republic of Ireland 2018

25 October, 2017

Top 100 Golf Courses of the Republic of Ireland 2018

It’s been twelve years since we compiled our first Top 100 chart for the Republic of Ireland and, in seven editions of the listings, the top five places have been occupied by the same five courses, albeit that they’ve sometimes appeared in a slightly different order after the biennial updates. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise to learn that the top five positions remain exactly as they were last time.

Which means the Old course at Ballybunion is still the national number 1 course and retaining the top spot is due reward for the risk taken by the club with its recent extensive upgrade of the course infrastructure, when all eighteen poa annua greens were replaced with pure fescue putting surfaces, green surrounds were re-turfed with fescue and around forty bunkers revetted, all within a very short time frame. As if that wasn’t enough, additional work was carried out on four of the holes (including the repositioning of the 7th green) to further enhance the Old course’s ground game credentials so hats off to Ballybunion for such a brave decision to revamp the layout in one decisive initiative.

The next big story is the prodigious leap of nine places to number six by Trump International Golf Links Ireland, formerly known as Doonbeg. Our US Consultant Fergal visited the course last month and was profuse in his praise for the refurbished layout: “I offer huge congratulations to SOL Golf, Martin Hawtree and Brian Shaw (head pro for 17 years) for renovating this original Greg Norman course into a truly sensational 18-hole layout. Greens were moved, holes were completely changed and the routing was significantly improved… While walking around, I rejoiced that such an investment was being made on Irish soil to celebrate our beautiful country and elevate the profile of a fabulous Irish links.”

Another renovated links rises an impressive seven spots to number 16 and it’s Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links, which also benefited from a change of ownership and overseas investment from the United States in 2014. A redesigned high tee has been installed at the 1st hole, newly revetted bunkers are now in place, turf pathways have been introduced and a rough management programme initiated, all under the watchful eye of long-term Links Superintendent Fintan Brennan. And with fescue grass now dominating 80% of the putting surfaces, the greens at Portmarnock Hotel gain in reputation every year so cracking the national Top 20 is well deserved for this undervalued links.

Three hundred kilometres due west, on the other side of the country, the rugged Championship course at Connemara soars nine places to number 23. An Eddie Hackett design which was first brought into play in the early 1970s, the 27-hole facility at Connemara unfortunately suffers from its remoteness – because the clusters of more highly ranked courses to the north and the south are a good driving distance away, visiting golfers tend to omit this fabulous links from their itinerary, which is a big mistake. Maybe a big name American golfer will one day discover the undisputed charms of Connemara and that might just be enough to propel it even further up the ranking lists…

Royal Dublin makes a substantial upward move near the top of the standings (up six to number 27) and another of our correspondents, Brian Ward, played there last year, terming it “the unexpected highlight of a recent trip to Ireland,” going on to say it was “somewhat underrated in my opinion”. Narin & Portnoo in County Donegal also moves in the right direction (up seven to number 28) and a reviewer described it earlier this year as a “fabulous golf course with the majority of holes in the dunes as good as any at more illustrious courses.”

Further down the table, Strandhill in County Sligo surges forward thirteen places to number 39. Architect Ally McIntosh has just completed a bunker scheme, widened fairways and redone mowing lines as part of a 5-year masterplan for the course and he told us he’s also “done some other small tweaks here and there to make the course feel bigger.” Christy O’Connor Jnr’s design at the Galway Bay Golf Resort also advances admirably, up fifteen to number 50, and this “parkland by the sea” 18-hole layout celebrates its 25th year of operation next year.

In the bottom half of the chart, four courses exhibit spectacular double digit positional progression: the reconfigured Rathsallagh layout in County Wicklow (up twenty-one to 51), Peter McEvoy’s 2006 design at New Forest in County Westmeath (up eighteen to 60), the old links – established in 1891 – at North West in County Donegal (up fourteen to 81), and the tree-lined track at Portarlington in County Offaly, which Eddie Hackett extended to eighteen holes in the 1990s (up ten to 87).

Five courses drop out from our Top 100 – Adare (more below), Rathcore, Skellig Bay, Roganstown and Dunfanaghy – to be replaced by a handful of courses headed by Cruit Island in County Donegal. In actual fact, this lovely little 9-hole layout is a chart re-entry, having fallen from our listings the last time we re-ranked, two years ago. A review from last month sums up the course rather well: “Just came back from this year’s trip to Donegal. Despite also playing the scenic and wonderful courses at Ballyliffin, Rosapenna, Narin & Portnoo and Portsalon, it is the crazy golf and breathtaking scenery at Cruit Island that our little group will remember the longest.”

The course at Adare Manor Resort is currently closed and will open in April 2018 following a substantial redesign by Tom Fazio. J.P. McManus, the new owner, has transformed the entire property and the newly remodelled course is growing in nicely. It's certain to jump back into the Irish Top 100 rankings next time. The only question is how high?

The same question could be asked of the new clifftop course at Hogs Head, a Robert Trent Jones Jnr design that supercedes the ill-fated Skellig Bay development near Waterville in County Kerry. Gone are the old stone walls that once dominated the property, replaced with open, sand-capped fairways planted with fescue grasses native to the Irish coastline. Hogs Head is also still growing in and it too will open for business in April next year.

It’ll certainly be interesting to see where these two courses feature when we publish the next edition of our Republic of Ireland Top 100.


To view the complete detailed list of the Top 100 Golf Courses in Ireland click the link.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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