NCG’s Top 10: Best golf courses in the British Isles

Courses and Travel

Welcome to our list of the very finest creations in GB & Ireland

10. Portmarnock Old

County Dublin, Ireland

Still the best course in the Republic of Ireland – despite stern competition from the likes of Waterville, Ballybunion and Lahinch on the west coast.

Unlike many of its rivals, Portmarnock is quite flat. While this means it is less dramatic, it is also considerably more consistent. It barely misses a beat.

Hosted the 1991 Walker Cup, when Phil Mickelson and David Duval were on the visiting team.

9. Royal Birkdale

Lancashire, England

Royal Birkdale

The scene of Jordan Spieth’s Open win last summer and the Open venue the pros love the most – outside Scotland at any rate. They love the flat fairways, which form corridors through the dunes. It’s fair and it’s WYSIWIG – what you see is what you get.

8. Carnoustie

Angus, Scotland

Carnoustie

The 2018 Open host is unfairly known best for its difficulty. It would be more accurate if it were thought of, first and foremost, for the rigour of the test it provides. Pretty it isn’t, but what an examination it provides.

The closing four-hole stretch is the stuff of legends – three brutally hard par 4s and a 250-yard par 3 with the Barry Burn a constant and repeating obstacle.

The genius is that the 17th plays in the opposite direction to the other three meaning that if the wind turns you have a new set of problems.

7. Sunningdale (Old)

Berkshire, England

Sunningdale

The only debate about this course’s presence on the list is whether it should be categorised as being in Surrey or Berkshire.

Technically, the village is on the Berkshire side of the border but the club has always been part of the Surrey County Golf Union. Anyway, it’s a magnificent heathland course designed by Willie Park and is arguably the most loved course on the list with the exception of the Old Course.

6. Royal Portrush

County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Royal Potrush

Another course to have benefitted from Mackenzie Ebert’s expertise, the Dunluce now has two entirely new holes ready for the Open Championship to come to town in the summer of 2019. This is a driver’s golf course – find the even fairways and you should be able to cope with the predominantly flat and large greens.

5. Royal St George’s

Kent, England

This sprawling, rumpled, unconventional and above all natural expanse of linksland presents the game in its rawest and original form.

It’s magnificent – complete with uneven stances, blind shots and unpredictable bounces. It’s also iconic – the unofficial home of English golf.

4. Trump Turnberry

Ayrshire, Scotland

Turnberry

Vastly improved by Mackenzie Ebert, the Ailsa re-opened last summer and is virtually a new golf course. All the greens were re-laid and there are several brand-new holes. Most of them involve tees overlooking the beach and it’s now truly spectacular for 18 holes.

Previously there were several weak holes – now there are barely any.

3. Muirfield

East Lothian, Scotland

Muirfield

Old Tom Morris was the original designer but the course we play today owes more to the genius of Harry Colt. Muirfield does not occupy the most thrilling piece of linksland in the British Isles, far from it, but constant changes of direction – the course is made up of concentric circles – ensure that the challenge is fascinating and unrelenting.

2. Royal County Down

County Down, Northern Ireland

Royal County Down

Another Old Tom Morris original. It dates back to the 19th century and while his work has evolved since – and Donald Steel completely redesigned the 16th hole a few years ago – the course still plays true to its roots.

It’s beautiful, subtle – though the trademark hairy bunkers are anything but – and has fast, firm greens, from the slightly domed centres of which the ball invariably seems to glide away. It is the greatest test of links golf in the world.

1. St Andrews (Old Course)

Fife, Scotland

In a list like this, the Old Course is either No. 1 or doesn’t feature. Mother Nature’s design is far from perfect yet practically every great course designed since uses its principles to a greater or lesser extent. Some of the holes are weak, yes, and the Old Course can be a confusing place to play for the first-time visitor (and second- and third- for that matter).

The wide, apparently featureless expanses are pitted with hidden bunkers that can swallow up shots seemingly bounding towards their target.

It’s all part of the fun though and the closing stretch is unforgettable as you play back towards the enveloping Auld Grey Toun.

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