In his weekly Limerick Leader golf column, Ivan Morris picks his favourite courses, under a variety of different categories.
On holiday, without my golf clubs recently – an extremely rare occurrence in a golf saturated life - I could not stop thinking about an article in the Golf Monthly magazine. I ended up spending half of my holidays thinking about the game I was trying to get away from and doing something I don’t approve of – ranking golf courses and making various notes and lists.
Golf Monthly magazine had stirred up a storm in my mind by naming its top 100 courses in Great Britain and Ireland. Ireland did comparatively well by gaining 22% of the vote but not the top spot, which went to The Old Course. Much and all as I enjoy the town of St. Andrew’s, its seven golf courses and the fantastic ambiance and atmosphere, I don’t agree with the choice of The Old Course as No. 1. As far as I’m concerned Carnoustie is the best course in Scotland – so there!
This is how the Irish courses fared on the Golf Monthly’s listing with the position on the magazine’s list in parenthesis. 1 (2)- Royal County Down; 2 (11) Waterville; 3 (12)- Royal Portrush; 4 (13)- Ballybunion; 5 (17)- The European; 6 (22)- Doonbeg; 7 (23)- Lahinch; 8 (29)- Portmarnock Old; 9 (33) Old Head; 10 (42)- Sandy Hills, Rosapenna; 11 (51)- Tralee; 12 (56)- County Louth; 13 (63)- Lough Erne; 14 (65) K-Club, Palmer Course; 15 (71)- Druid’s Glen; 16 (74)- Glashedy, Ballyliffin; 17 (79)- The Island; 18 (83)- Mount Juliet; 19 (87) Killeen, Killarney; 20 (90)- Portmarnock Links; 21 (96)- Carne; 22 (98)- Adare Manor Golf Resort.
Many surprises, to be sure - Doonbeg rated No. 6 ahead of Lahinch, Portmarnock and Tralee will surprise a few people but not me. In the inland stakes, Adare comes behind Druids Glen, Killarney and the K Club which is laughable but who is laughing?
In my lifetime, I must have played at something approaching 1000 courses. Some of them were so marvelous that I can still vividly recall every stroke, every hole and every detail forty years on. Others have long since been consigned to the dustbin of my memory and draw a blank.
Magazine top-100 golf course lists always stir up debate and discussion. I might not like them but I cannot ignore them! I have to admit that going beyond (say, 20) is nitpicking and silly but because so many readers are constantly asking me to do it and I’ve never been much of a one for keeping my opinions to myself I won’t dodge the issue any longer.
Here are my favorite top-20 Irish courses - note the word favorite. I’m not attempting to name the best or most challenging, which would be a different, and more difficult, task. 1-Waterville; 2-Royal Portrush; 3-Portmarnock; 4-The European; 5-Lahinch; 6-Cork; 7-Sandy Hills, Rosapenna; 8-Ballybunion Old; 9-Doonbeg; 10-Carlow; 11-Adare; 12-Ballyliffin Old; 13-The Island; 14-Royal Belfast; 15-Westport; 16-Farnham Estate; 17-Dooks; 18-Lough Erne; 19-County Louth; 20-Bunclody. If you are short of time and can only squeeze in ‘the best 9-holes in Ireland; Royal County Down shades Lahinch and Cork for having the best front 9 while The European Club or Waterville’s inward run are probably the best of the back 9s.
Now that I have started, here’s my top twenty favorites courses worldwide: 1-Merion, Pennsylvania, USA; 2-Pine Valley, New Jersey, USA; 3-Sunningdale, England; 4-Sawgrass, Florida, USA; 5-Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s, England; 6-Carnoustie, Scotland; 7-The University Course, New Mexico, USA; 8-Peach Tree, Georgia, USA; 9-Biarritz Le Phare, France; 10-Royal Birkdale, England; 11-Panmure, Scotland; 12-Clementader, Paris, France; 13-Valderrama, Andalucia, Spain; 14-Las Colinas, Murcia, Spain; 15-Schloss Langenstein, Germany; 16- Falsterbo, Sweden; 17-Royal Copenhagen, Denmark; 18-North Berwick, Scotland; 19-Yas Island, Abu Dhabi; 20-Quinta do Peru, Lisbon, Portugal.
It’s a less sticky a topic to name my favorite 18 holes in Ireland beginning with the marvelous first hole at Doonbeg (5); 2-Mullingar (3); 3-Killeen-Killarney (3); 4-Cork (4); 5-Portmarnock Old (4); 6-Ballyliffin Old (4); 7-Dooks (4); 8-Bantry Bay (4); 9-Royal County Down (4); 10-Mount Juliet (5); 11-Ballybunion (4); 12-Waterville (3); 13-Royal Portrush (4); 14-Rosapenna Valley (4); 15-Enniscrone (4); 16-Ring of Kerry (4); 17-The European (4); 18-Waterville (5). I could have just as easily have chosen: 1-Portstewart (4); 2-Old Head (4); 3-Athlone (4); 4-RCD (3); 5-Royal Portrush (4); 6-Sandy Hills, Rosapenna (4); 7-The European (4); 8-Dromoland Castle (4); 9-Westport (3); 10-Fota Island (5); 11-Templepatrick (3); 12-Portmarnock (3); 13-Adare Resort (4); 14-Rosses Point (4); 15-The European (4); 16-Dooks (4); 17-Carne (4); 18-Mahony’s Point-Killarney (3) but I didn’t!
It’s easier to hand out plaudits so I have also selected 20 courses in Ireland that are the most under-rated by my reckoning: 1-Doonbeg; 2-The Island; 3-Royal Belfast; 4-Birr; 5-Rathcore; 6-Knightsbrook; 7-Mullingar; 8-Smurfit Course at the K Club; 9-Dooks; 10-Belvoir Park; 11-Mahon; 12-Bantry Bay; 13-Waterford Castle; 14-Dundrum; 15-Strandhill; 16-The Curragh; 17-Lackabane; 18-The Castle Course at Lahinch; 19-Castlegregory; 20-East Clare.
Finally, my ten most ‘want-to-play’ Irish courses: 1-Rosslare; 2-Concra Wood; 3-Headfort Old; 4-Castlerock; 5-Malone; 6-Portumna; 7-Knock; 8-Portsalon; 9-Northwest; 10-Mount Wolseley. If ever I play them, I hope they won’t disappoint me.
Words of the Wise: No game affords such opportunity for cool calculation, self-examination and self-castigation as golf – John Low.