Top 100 Links Courses of Britain and Ireland 2017

04 January 2017 Respond to this article

Top 100 Links Courses of Britain and Ireland 2017

Royal County Down Golf Club

There’s no denying it – we’re obsessed with golf courses, especially links courses. We’re also rather nutty about lists. So, for the first time, we are delighted to present the inaugural rankings of the Top 100 Links Courses of Britain and Ireland.

Initially we thought it would be an easy job to produce such a list, but soon into the project it quickly became apparent that we had to define exactly what is a links course.

Paul Daley, in his book Links Golf The Inside Story, published in 2000, states:

“There is much conjecture as to what really constitutes a links. Reduced to the bare essentials, any layout purporting to be a links should look like one. But more importantly, it must play like a links. What some people fail to acknowledge is that these two elements do not automatically co-exist.

Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club

Others may propose that a links ‘links land and sea’. This advances the argument somewhat and usually they are hard by the sea; aesthetically, it is a major part of the attraction. However, to fully accept this concept is to deliver a tremendous slight to Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club [which] is surrounded by suburbia on all sides… Clearly, the definitive answer is not straightforward.”

We all know a links course when we see one and when we play one don’t we? It’s obvious – surely?

Very quickly we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t as easy as we first thought. We got stuck on a few courses and so we did some research, a lot of research, in fact.

Turnberry Ailsa course

Our first port of call was Donald Steel, who first published Classic Golf Links of Great Britain and Ireland in 1992. This book takes the reader on a clockwise journey round Britain and Ireland taking in 75 courses. We debated only one course from his list. We quickly decided it was sufficiently a “real” links but it wasn’t going to make our Top 100 anyway, so we moved on.

Next stop, David Worley, one of our long-standing contributors. David has published two epic coffee-table books: Journey Through the Links (2007) and Another Journey Through the Links (2010). His first book listed 155 courses and his follow-up title 165 courses.

Ballybunion Old course - photo by Ulrich Mayring

We then consulted George Peper and Malcolm Campbell’s True Links. “Here is our list of the 246 courses that we think qualify to be called authentic links.” 211 of the 246 listed courses are located in Britain and Ireland.

After analysing all the courses referenced in the aforementioned titles and adding Trump International Golf Links, Aberdeen, to the mix, which opened after the above titles had been published, we came up with the shortlist for our 2017 Top 100 Links Courses of Britain and Ireland rankings.

Lengthy debates followed, not specifically concerning the ranking order for the Top 100, but whether or not we should include or omit a handful of courses from the shortlist: Ganton, St Andrews (Castle), Old Head, Sheringham and Southerndown. David Worley included all five, while George Peper and Malcolm Campbell included only Sheringham.

Royal Porthcawl Golf Club

In fairness to David Worley, he classified Ganton as an “inland links”, and we felt it was also in the heathland mould, so we removed it from the list. St Andrews (Castle) and Old Head were more awkward propositions.

“Clifftop courses were another tricky case”, wrote Peper and Campbell. “Clifftop locations typically are barren and relatively lacking in dunes and other salient land formations. The soil is usually more clay based than on low-lying linksland, since even the strongest wind can’t transport much sand up from the beach far below. Among the better-known clifftops are Pebble Beach in California, Old Head in Ireland… Ditto Southerndown in Wales (technically a down course, based on limestone cliffs) and the new Castle Course in St Andrews, perched on farmland just above the city.”

La Moye Golf Club

We largely agreed with the True Links assertion, but we failed to understand why Peper and Campbell included the downland Sheringham, which in a similar vein to Southerndown, is also laid out on a chalk cliff. Southerndown is routed over a unique limestone heath and is rather more links-like than Sheringham in style.

In the end, we omitted all five courses.

The apparently simple project was to identify the Top 100 Links Golf Courses of Britain and Ireland. It turned into something rather more complicated and time-consuming.

For those who are interested in reading some of our background notes, click the following two hyperlinks:

Our Interpretation of “Links”

Geology and geography

Castletown Golf Links

Next month, we’ll publish our own version of Britain & Ireland’s “Real Links”. The list will contain the vast majority of courses listed in David Worley’s titles and also those featured within True Links. However, we’ve identified a number of other links courses in Britain and Ireland that we believe really do deserve to be called authentic “real” links.

The following list is, we think, unique. It’s the first ever ranking of the Top 100 Links Golf Courses of Britain and Ireland. This list doesn’t follow the exact sequence of our current GB&I Top 100, because we’ve made some adjustments based on likely changes to our biennial GB&I rankings, which will be published later this year.

Rank/ Course Country
1 Royal County Down (Championship) Northern Ireland
2 Trump Turnberry (Ailsa) Scotland
3 St Andrews (Old) Scotland
4 Royal Dornoch (Championship) Scotland
5 Muirfield Scotland
6 Royal Portrush (Dunluce) Northern Ireland
7 Ballybunion (Old) Republic of Ireland
8 Royal St George's England
9 Carnoustie (Championship) Scotland
10 Lahinch (Old) Republic of Ireland
11 Royal Birkdale England
12 Kingsbarns Scotland
13 Portmarnock (Championship) Republic of Ireland
14 North Berwick (West) Scotland
15 Castle Stuart Scotland
16 Royal Aberdeen (Balgownie) Scotland
17 Royal Lytham & St Annes England
18 Trump International Scotland
19 Royal Porthcawl Wales
20 Cruden Bay (Championship) Scotland
21 Royal Troon (Old) Scotland
22 Waterville Republic of Ireland
23 European Club Republic of Ireland
24 Royal Liverpool England
25 Saunton (East) England
26 Prestwick Scotland
27 Western Gailes Scotland
28 St Enodoc (Church) England
29 Royal Cinque Ports England
30 Machrihanish (Championship) Scotland
31 Nairn (Championship) Scotland
32 Formby England
33 Royal West Norfolk England
34 Hillside England
35 Silloth-on-Solway England
36 The Island Republic of Ireland
37 County Louth Republic of Ireland
38 Burnham & Berrow (Championship) England
39 County Sligo (Championship) Republic of Ireland
40 Ballyliffin (Glashedy) Republic of Ireland
41 Trump Doonbeg Republic of Ireland
42 Rye (Old) England
43 Carne (Hackett) Republic of Ireland
44 Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) Republic of Ireland
45 Renaissance Club Scotland
46 Tralee Republic of Ireland
47 Enniscrone (Dunes) Republic of Ireland
48 Aberdovey Wales
49 Gullane (No.1) Scotland
50 Royal St David's Wales
51 Hunstanton England
52 Skibo Castle Scotland
53 Machrie Scotland
54 Pennard Wales
55 Machrihanish Dunes Scotland
56 St Andrews (New) Scotland
57 Dundonald Scotland
58 Portstewart (Strand) Northern Ireland
59 Donegal Republic of Ireland
60 Southport & Ainsdale England
61 Ballyliffin (Old) Republic of Ireland
62 Brora Scotland
63 Castletown Isle of Man
64 West Lancashire England
65 Castlerock (Mussenden) Northern Ireland
66 La Moye Channel Islands
67 Portmarnock Hotel Links Republic of Ireland
68 Portsalon Republic of Ireland
69 Royal North Devon England
70 Saunton (West) England
71 Moray (Old) Scotland
72 Royal Portrush (Valley) Northern Ireland
72 Dunbar Scotland
74 Ballybunion (Cashen) Republic of Ireland
75 Prince's (Shore & Dunes) England
76 Conwy Wales
77 Archerfield (Fidra) Scotland
78 Southerness Scotland
79 Trevose (Championship) England
80 Lundin Scotland
81 Wallasey England
82 Dooks Republic of Ireland
83 Connemara (Championship) Republic of Ireland
84 Glasgow (Gailes Links) Scotland
85 Archerfield (Dirleton) Scotland
86 Hayling England
87 Royal Dublin Republic of Ireland
88 Ashburnham Wales
89 Narin & Portnoo Republic of Ireland
90 Murcar Links Scotland
91 Seaton Carew England
92 Perranporth England
93 Leven Links Scotland
94 Littlestone (Championship) England
95 Gullane (No.2) Scotland
96 Seacroft England
97 Royal Jersey Channel Islands
98 Luffness New Scotland
99 Panmure Scotland
100 Montrose (Medal) Scotland

As always, we welcome any comments. If you’d like table any criticisms or suggestions in relation to our first ranking list for the Top 100 Links Golf Courses of Britain & Ireland 2017 then please use the “Respond to this article” link at the top or at the bottom of this page to share your thoughts. One member of the Top 100 team (who shall remain nameless) has played 92. Can anyone beat that?