Where Lahinch ranks among Ireland's greatest golf courses

Matt Ginella's Top 10 Ireland and Northern Ireland courses you should play on your golf tour.

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It's hard to see so many drone shots of Ireland's Lahinch Golf Club, host of this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, and not want to reflect on and rank some Irish golf. Without a doubt, a trip to Scotland’s St. Andrews is No. 1 on my list of top golf trips. But after you’ve gone “Home,” it’s time for the craic and golf in Ireland.

And yes, while technically there’s the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, in terms of this ranking, it’s all Irish golf in my eyes, and they’re smiling.

Green fees in high/low season in parentheses converted to current USD exchange rate.

Matt Ginella's 10 best golf courses in Ireland-Northern Ireland

  1. Royal County Down (Championship Course)
    The 9th hole at Royal County Down is one of the world's most awe-inspiring.

    Resting peacefully at the base of the Mountains of Mourne, Royal County Down wreaks havoc on the holes in your game. Well beyond the view from the ninth fairway, every step feels special. Not unlike what you feel playing the Old Course or Pebble Beach. ($250/$90.)

    Newcastle, County Down
    Public
    3.5194857143
    12

    The best Irish in their own category

    Adare Manor (Parkland golf)

    Adare Manor sets the standard for parkland golf in Ireland.

    J.P. McManus, an Irish businessman and owner of one of the most successful stables in the history of horseracing, bought and restored Adare Manor in 2014. More than $250 million later, which includes a Tom Fazio renovation of the golf course, and Adare Manor is one of the most classy and exquisite golf and lodging experiences of my career. Not many travel to Ireland for a parkland golf, but if you dare to Adare, you’ll never stop talking about the service at where you stayed and the conditions of what you played. ($425/$340)

    Old Head (When Golden Tee becomes reality)

    This is a bucket-list experience and another course several of my friends say is their favorite, but the weather conditions tend to be extreme, which makes the dramatic tightrope along the jagged coast almost unplayable. Think of a series of approach shots that look a lot like the eighth at Pebble Beach. Sounds pretty sweet, until it’s blowing 60 miles per hour and if you slip, you fall 100 feet. Now, catch it in calm conditions and you might be inclined to stay another day. Or a week. ($400/$225)

    Portstewart (Best front nine)

    Only a few miles from Royal Portrush, when people play both, and they almost always do, it’s the front nine at Portstewart that steals the 36-hole show. And so the story goes, it was designed by a local math teacher who got paid in pints. His grade: A+. Unfortunately, the back nine is left holding his beer. ($200/$70)

    Dooks (Best value)

    Southwest Ireland's unsung gem: Dooks Golf Club.

    Whenever I make the trip from Lahinch to Waterville, I stop off at Dooks for the Ardglass of the south. A slightly smaller version of what I love about Waterville, it’s a series of memorable holes and shots, but it’s also about the green fee, service and general attitude of the staff. ($160/$75)

  2. Lahinch (Old Course)
    A standout at Lahinch is the par-5 12th hole where you can take aim at the distant castle.

    Neighboring a charming little surfing town, which is a rarity in Ireland, it’s hard to imagine an Irish golf itinerary without Lahinch. After the first two holes, you best buckle up, you’re in for a wild ride, which includes the Dell Hole (5th), Paradise (6th), Blind Hookey (7th), Crater (8th) and Castle (12th), which might be my favorite of the bunch. ($260/$200)

    Lahinch, County Clare
    Public
    5.0
    12

  3. Waterville House & Golf Links
    The 12th hole at Waterville in southwest Ireland.

    I look at this perfect routing in six three-hole narratives. Depending on the conditions, within each short story there’s a hole that plays as a low-side half par, par, and a high-side half par. Which is to say, get-able, fair, and challenging. Hard to play the Mass Hole (12th), without feeling some sense of spirituality and connection to a religious past. The plaque on the tee tells the story. ($260/$85)

    Waterville, County Kerry
    Public
    4.75
    4

  4. Royal Portrush (Dunluce)

    A deserving venue for the first Open Championship in Ireland since 1951, there’s a feeling amongst members and anyone who plays it that it belongs in the rota. It’s also an insightful display of some of Harry Colt’s best work, especially at Calamity, the 210-yard 14th: Bobby Locke’s hollow to the left, ball-in-pocket to the right. ($300/$115)

    Portrush, County Antrim
    Private
    4.9796
    19

  5. Ballybunion (Old Course)

    “Terrain that surpasses any course we know for beauty, not excepting Pine Valley,” said Tom Simpson, the English architect who worked on Ballybunion’s Old in 1936. And according to course history, they were changes Simpson referred to as “finishing touches.” It’s actually the start and especially the finish that puts it at fifth on my list. Everything in the middle is fun and flawless. ($260/low season TBD)

    Ballybunion, County Kerry
    Private
    4.4545
    11

  6. Portmarnock Golf Club (Championship)

    Located on the outskirts of Dublin and only 20 minutes from the airport, there are a lot of Irish golf enthusiast who have this course on the top of their list. Host of the 2019 Amateur Championship, 1991 Walker Cup and 19 Irish Opens, including the first, which was in 1927. Crenshaw, Ballesteros, Langer, Woosnam, and Olazabal have all won at Portmarnock. On your next Irish buddies trip, you’ll want to add your name to that list. On my last trip, I played with the late Gerry Carr who regaled me with his short game and stories of his father, Joe Carr, the Bobby Jones of Irish golf. ($280/$160)

    Portmarnock, County Dublin
    Private
    4.9183714286
    8

  7. Tralee Golf Club
    Tralee Golf Club's scenic 16th hole is one of many back-nine highlights.

    Easily the most notable Arnold Palmer design, even The King admitted he had a lot of help from the Man Above. The back nine gets all the ink, but there’s a lot I like about the front nine as well, especially the third and eighth holes. As for the finish, at sunset, it can be one of the greatest walks in golf. ($260/$180)

    Tralee, County Kerry
    Public
    4.3333
    6

  8. Ballyliffin (Glashedy)
    The 7th hole at Ballyliffin's Glashedy Links is a downhill par 3 guarded by water.

    Host of the 2018 Irish Open, on the northernmost point of Ireland, this course was full of surprises and exceeded expectations. Looking out to the Glashedy Rock, you play alongside the humps and bumps of the Old Course. You can almost see the southern tip of Ireland from the seventh tee as the Pat Ruddy design has become the axis of all golf trips to the north of Ireland. ($225/$60)

    Ballyliffin, County Donegal
    Public
    4.1904857143
    5

  9. Ardglass Golf Club

    With a clubhouse dating back to the early 1400s, this remains one of my most notable surprises in all of my travels. The parking lot slopes down to the first tee, almost nudging you into one of the most charming walks that involves golf. You’ll hit shots over little ocean inlets like you see at Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. And you’ll hit shots over a little white “cottage,” which neighbors the seventh green. Which is to say, I hit it so far right, I hit a shot over the cottage. There aren’t a lot of par 3s better than the 12th. On a trip to Royal County Down? Add Ardglass. You’ll thank me later. ($240/$85)

    Ardglass, County Down
    Public
    4.3927882353
    35

  10. County Sligo

    Also known as "Rosses Point," Harry Colt and Charles Alison renovated the course in 1927. Host of the West of Ireland, one of the country’s most prestigious amateur tournaments, it was here that Rory McIlroy, 15, won the 2005 “West,” becoming the youngest player ever to do so. And then he won it again when he was 16. Up, down, over, and around some spectacular Irish terrain, play Sligo and you’ll have no problem seeing why it makes this list. ($220/$60)

    Rosses Point, County Sligo
    Public
    4.1372411765
    7

Matt Ginella is Golf Advisor's Editor-at-Large and host of Golf Advisor Round Trip travel series on Golf Channel. Matt serves as resident buddy trip expert and captains a collection of VIP trips called Golf Advisor Getaways.
8 Comments
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Commented on

Am organizing a group of 16 from the USA. Got any recommendations?

Commented on

Hi David,

Golf Advisor Travel now has Stay & Play packages to multiple destinations in the UK & Ireland! Please contact us by phone at 833-453-8785, or via email at travel@golfchannel.com, to speak with one of our Travel Concierge Team members.

Thanks for your interest! We look forward to helping you plan your golf getaway!

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Commented on

The European club
Should be on the list!

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Commented on

I have been lucky to play several on your list. On my last trip to Ireland I went to far west to Bellmullet in County Mayo and played Carne. My opinion but this should be on your list in the top five.

Thanks, I enjoyed your article

I

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Commented on

Ballybunion Old has a wonderful finish. The great par 5 #16, twisting through enormous dunes, a fabulous par 4 #17, where the right side fairway and green hug the beach, and the finale with a drive over an ancient burial ground. In addition, any Ireland top 10 course list that doesn't include Carne is crazy.

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Commented on

I haven't played all of your top 10, but agree with Royal County Downat #1 and would put Old Head as #2.

Where would you rank Waterville?

Commented on

The Open was last played at Portrush in 1951
“ proof read”
Some good choices

Staff
Commented on

Thanks, corrected

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Where Lahinch ranks among Ireland's greatest golf courses