The 6 best golf courses in Ireland | GOLF Top 100 Courses in the World
Clyde Johnson, LC Lambrecht, Getty Images, Evan Schiller
If you’re looking for a golf destination where you can have access to a solid chunk of courses that can be found on GOLF’s latest list of the Top 100 Courses in the World, Ireland is a great place to venture.
GOLF’s course raters identified a total of six courses on the Emerald Isle as being among the best in the world, with one course making the top 10, three making the top 25 and five in the top 50.
The island of Ireland measures only 302 miles from top to bottom, making it fairly easy — and beautiful — to traverse by car. With 1,990 miles of coastline, Ireland is an ideal locale for links golf, with the vast majority of courses open year-round.
Royal County Down in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, is Ireland’s top-ranked course, coming in at No. 6 on GOLF’s list.
For an in-depth look at County Down — and to see which other Irish courses made the list — scroll below.
The 6 best golf courses in Ireland
(Course profiles written by Ran Morrissett)
6. Royal County Down (Newcastle, Northern Ireland)
The evolution over more than 130 years of this design is fascinating and has yielded what many consider to be the game’s finest front nine. Blind tee shots abound, in brilliant fashion at such holes as 2, 5 and 9. On the back side, one feature that was recently expunged was a natural pond 100 yards shy of the 17th green. Member George Combe deserves much of the credit for RCD as he shepherded the course through the transition to the rubber core Haskell ball 120 years ago. Forty percent of the World top 15 (here, Pine Valley, Oakmont, Royal Dornoch, Pebble Beach and Merion) derived much of their substance from individuals who built few other courses. Such designs enjoy their own unique voices with County Down further blessed with staggeringly handsome long views of the Irish Sea, the Mountains of Mourne and the red-brick steeple of the Slieve Donard Hotel.
16. Royal Portrush (Portrush, Northern Ireland)
The only course outside of England and Scotland to host the Open is perennially ranked in the world’s top-20 courses, thanks to a superior 1929 H.S. Colt design that maximizes its setting in the high dunes along the Irish Sea. The golf world saw two new holes in action at the 2019 Open: the 7th and 8th, which replaced the old, comparatively dull 17th and 18th holes. Both nines touch the cliff line, with the course’s most spectacular moment coming at the 5th as it doglegs right to a two-tiered green flush against the cliff. Indeed, plenty of the holes elbow one direction or the other, so driver is not an automatic decision as hitting the twisting fairways and approaching Colt’s angled greens from the correct side of the fairway are of paramount importance.
24. Ballybunion (Old) (Ballybunion, Ireland)
This Southwest Irish gem is wedged between huge sandhills and the Atlantic Ocean. “Nothing less than the finest seaside course I have ever seen,” said Hall of Fame writer Herbert Warren Wind. Echoed five-time Open champion Tom Watson, “It is one of the best and most beautiful tests of links golf anywhere.” Greenkeeper John Bambury embarked seven years ago to convert the poa greens to fine fescue and to re-establish the running game. His hard work has reached fruition. World-class holes abound, such as the 470-yard 11th, which cascades downhill to a green between two dunes, and the picture-perfect 210-yard 15th with an Atlantic backdrop.
37. Lahinch (Old) (Lahinch, Ireland)
Old Tom Morris’ 1893 design, coupled with Alister MacKenzie’s 1927 enhancements, including the 9th green, and Martin Hawtree’s 2003 push into the big dunes, delivers an irresistible combination of beauty, challenge and fun. The course is a poster child for Irish tourism, what with its tumbling dunes and the Cliffs of Mohr just to the north. Amazingly, the golf is every bit as good as its setting, headlined by a sterling set of two-shot holes that fall across the land in every conceivable manner.
49. St. Patrick’s Links (Rosapenna, Ireland)
Ireland’s dunes have benefited from sand deposits over the millennia along its west coast as exemplified by its fabled links in the southwest including Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville. Each enjoys some of the game’s most impressive landforms. Set in the northwest county of Donegal, St. Patrick’s too will soon become a household name with golfers flocking here to experience the unbridled joy that comes from playing in and among big dunes as one battles the wind. The course looks like it has been there for a century, instead of having opened in 2021, which speaks volumes of the routing and the talented shapers that worked the project. Some of the interior green contours like those found on 5, 10, 11, and 17 are as dazzling as the overall environment. Both casual golfers and architecture buffs alike should take note of the features that make the three longest par-4s (9, 11 and 16) so much fun to play.
59. Portmarnock (Old) (Portmarnock, Ireland)
On approach to the Dublin airport, keep your eyes peeled out the window for a glimpse of the most romantic location for a golf course imaginable. Yes, that would be Portmarnock, set among low dunes at the end of a peninsula. The sense of seclusion is palpable, even though you are only 7 miles as the crow flies from a bustling capital city. Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam are among those who won Irish Opens here. Arnold Palmer once tabbed the 15th as one of golf’s best par-3s and yet the other par-3 on that side (the shorter 12th) is just as good. Be prepared for some of the fastest, purest running conditions that the game offers. Also, don’t miss its third nine, the Yellow Nine.