royal county down

The 10 best holes in Great Britain and Ireland

Our courses expert has played 84 of our GB&I Top 100 in the past decade, so which 10 of these 1,512 holes makes it into his top 10?


In the past 10 years I’ve played 84 of our inaugural GB&I Top 100. It’s not an especially tough job, and no one has to do it, but I have.

I’ve actually played all 100 in my life, but just not all of the 100 in the last decade. So when thinking of the best holes from the last 10 years my agonising was narrowed down slightly because I haven’t played a few of the stellar names such as Sunningdale (Old) and Muirfield in that time.

Still, it was an impossible task and if I was asked to do this again next year – or even next month, or frankly tomorrow – I’m sure I’d come up with a notably different selection.

Anyway, this selection has holes from all four corners of GB&I, features both links and inland holes and includes holes where par is frankly unlikely for most of us but also others where you’ve got a chance of birdie.

That I couldn’t find room for anything from Lahinch, Portrush, Prestwick, Machrihanish, North Berwick, St Enodoc or Royal St George’s is as surprising as it is annoying. Next time…

1st, St Andrews (Old)

The Old Course St Andrews

Par 4, 367 yards

“It’s nothing more than a flat wide fairway with a stream!” I can hear some of you think, despairingly.

Well it is that, but obviously not just that. And not only because the Swilcan makes the approach shot tricky, especially when you are being silly with a tight club selection.

But like the whole of the ‘Old experience’ itself, it is about way more than the course. I’ve probably asked more than 30 tour pros if they still get a thrill standing on the 1st tee and every single one has confirmed they do.

And if that cynical bunch still find it special, it must be.

4th, Old Head of Kinsale

old head of kinsale

Par 4, 388 yards

There are some modest holes at this jaw-dropping clifftop course that stop it being among the elite of Britain and Ireland. But there are also some all-world classics, and this is one.

It follows the bluffs in a vintage dog-leg shape and ends on a green wedged in between the rocks on which the famous lighthouse sits and the edge of the whole property.

You don’t want to have much more than a 8-iron to find this small target so you really need to take on the dog-leg off the tee so, despite the slating Old Head gets from course architecture snobs, it is strategic and daring as well as impossibly scenic.

4th, Woking


Par 4, 352 yards

I never let what I’ve done on a course or a hole affect what I think of them, but I can’t pretend it didn’t make me very happy to find the slither of fairway between the central fairway bunkers and out of bounds that gives the best angle into the green. And of course I meant to hit it there.

This seminal piece of design by Stuart Low and John Paton apparently inspired their fellow member Tom Simpson – who went on to create Ballybunion, Morfontaine et al – to take up course architecture. Which is a reasonable recommendation.

You don’t need to be a golf course architecture aficionado to appreciate this brilliance.

1st, Doonbeg


Par 5, 567 yards

I know, so pathetically predictable. I’m not trying to be a hipster and choose obscure holes though, just ones I liked.

And everyone knows this is a great start, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

But you can’t feel how good it is until you’ve stood on the tee right outside the clubhouse windows and looked down this epic hole.

Drama matters as much as nuance to me – and this hole brings it in spades.

While the presence of lots of pairs of eyes in your back and you drive off is unnerving, you know anything vaguely airborne will look ok, and give you a chance of starting with a nice score once you make it to the green at the foot of the awesome dune 567 yards away.

14th, Royal Dornoch


Par 4, 445 yards

The contrarian in me was insouciant about revered ‘Foxy’ the first time I played it many years ago (plus it was basically dark).

The second time in Dornoch made me realise the error of my ways and by the third (of eight games there and counting) I was cringing at my initial view.

It famously has no bunkers and there isn’t a tree in sight; it’s all about the contours of the linksland along an S-bend fairway.

So you plan then execute how much of the dunes to cut off on the drive then be bold on your approach to a table-top green that rejects anything other than sweet strikes.

Unless you’ve held the green, the toughest shot is likely yet to come – a chip from the base of the green up and onto the green. I’ve seen good chippers resort to the putter there.

16th, Aberdovey


Par 4, 288 yards

Aberdovey starts and ends like a GB&I top-10 course and this is part of the stellar climax.

And it’s a sporty par 4, which is my favourite sort of hole – as it clearly should be everyone’s.

Your tee shot is hit tight to the railway line on the left, but what will you hit? A 4-iron into the narrow fairway to leave a wedged approach, or as much as you’ve got and hope your ball bounds over the humps and hollows and on to the small green?

The railway hugs the green on the left and there is a gully on that side too, so even with a wedge in hand it is a precarious shot. My idea of an entertaining hole.

3rd, Royal County Down

royal county down

Par 4, 477 yards

My favourite course in the world could naturally have had several entries and this may be a surprise because most praise is usually reserved for the likes of the 4th, 8th and 9th.

I’ve always thought the 2nd and 3rd were both wrongly overshadowed and that this par 4 in particular is brilliant.

It begins on an elevated tee on the edge of the beach and asks you avoid two drive bunkers that narrow further a slim fairway then find a green guarded by more sand and a knuckle front left.

The green is quick with deceptive movement, and the hole sums up the brilliance of RCD; aesthetically outstanding given its setting on the edge of Dundrum Bay, and an unremitting challenge every inch of its length.

17th, St Andrews (Old)

st andrews old course

Par 4, 455 yards

I’ve played the Old three times and have made 6, 5 and 6 on this hole. It’s arguably too hard for me… and I’m not a huge fan of golf – either courses or holes – being too hard (sounds an obvious thing to say, isn’t a common thing to hear or read).

But it has to be in, it’s just so good.

It is a bit silly that the hotel is so much in play but we are all used to it now and it’s St Andrews so it’s fine. It makes the drive terrifying – you must hug its right side if you want a realistic chance of finding the green in regulation – and is the first of the iconic moments.

The next of those comes as you attempt one of the most difficult approaches in the game, the shallow green being protected by the legendary bunker and banks short of the target and then the footpath and wall beyond it.

Chances are you’ll have a chip or sand escape for your next photo opportunity and if you’ve got a vaguely makeable putt for par you’ve had a result.

Now I’ve just written all that it’s reminded me that it really is too hard for me (and the large percentage of normal golfers) but it is a phenomenal, and justifiably iconic, hole.

7th, Liphook


Par 3, 149 yards

I could easily have selected as many as four holes from Liphook – not least two of its other short holes, namely the 2nd and especially the 11th.

Arthur Croome created so many majestic green complexes here – I even love the work of art that is the soon-to-change 9th – but this is the best of them.

Cross the railway bridge and the 7th as well as the 8th and 9th stretch before you in a blissful scene no-one could surely tire of.

It’s just 149 yards but is a devilish little test by virtue of the small undulating, two-tier target, the heather and sand that surround it, and the run-offs and mounds that make recoveries so exacting.

Once on the green you’ll inevitably face on a putt with bags of movement in it. Gorgeous, fun and impossible to leave out of this list.

3rd, Cruden Bay

cruden bay

Par 4, 367 yards

I hate flyovers of golf courses.

They should be banned, because they bear no resemblance to what you actually experience (hardly surprising given there is 150ft of difference between where you walk and the drone that got the footage) and, almost always, will lead to inflated expectations of what the course is like. And thus disappointment.

But I can accept the one Cruden Bay has of its 4th (I watched it while getting the yardage). What you see there is what it feels like to play it.

It’s why our historic links are the most intriguing and endlessly entertaining courses in the world and frankly why I could have populated this top 10 with nothing more than brilliantly eccentric seaside holes.

The epitome of a fun hole.

Did I miss any holes? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.



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