Killeen Castle straight in at 14 in Irish top-100
FAST movers up and down the leaderboard -- that's the theme of the 2010 'Golf Digest Ireland' Top 100 ranked courses.
Only four clubs of the 100 listed remain in the same position they occupied in the 2009 rankings -- Ballybunion (Old) 5; Waterville 6; Co Louth 9 and Castlerock 28.
Those courses that fell in the list won't be pleased -- but there is good news for others that entered the rankings for the first time or which made dramatic leaps up the leaderboard.
The criteria for the eminent judging panel included one notable feature: any club that the organisers were aware of being in receivership at the time of judging was not considered for the ratings.
There are a number of facilities in the country which are in that category and an executive decision was taken to omit them in favour of courses and clubs that are trading as well as possible in the current economic climate.
A huge effort was made to produce rankings that are fair and extensive, and the judging panel was: Padraig O hUiginn (Chairman), Declan Branigan (champion golfer and now a course designer), Eddie Connaughton (agronomist), Mark Gannon (champion golfer and Royal and Ancient selector), Valerie Hassett (international golfer), Kate MacCann (international golfers), Michael McCumiskey (Secretary, PGA Irish Region), Garth McGimpsey (champion golfer and Walker Cup captain), Ally McIntosh (course designer), John Quigley (Association of Irish Golf Club Secretaries) and Cecil Whelan (Hon Sec, Links Society).
A total of 76 golf clubs wrote to the panel, either to detail various upgrade work that had taken place over the course of the year or to request a visit. Each one was visited over a four-month period, as were 29 other clubs not included in last year's rankings but which merited another assessment. In the four months these golf clubs were visited and assessed. In October, the panel met for the final time and discussed and debated their findings.
Through agreement, 20 clubs were selected that could possibly make it into the top 10. The panel then voted on these courses using a marking system from one to 10, under these headings: Shot making/variety; design variety; memorability; condition; playability (all handicaps); degree of difficulty/fairness.
Once the top 10 had been decided, the panel then debated what clubs could possibly make it into the 11-20 bracket, and the individual voting process was repeated. The same process was continued throughout the 100 positions.
Every effort was made to have the process as thorough and fair as possible, but yet some huge swings in fortune resulted for about a third of clubs.
First, let's look at the smiley faces of the upwardly mobile clubs. There are 22 new entries -- over a fifth of the total -- and their positions range from Letterkenny arriving at number 96 to Killeen Castle jumping straight in at 14.
The full list of new entries and their positions is (in reverse order): Letterkenny, 96; Faithlegg, 92; Galway Bay, 89; Strandhill, 83; Balbriggan, 77; Courtown, 75; Castlemartyr, 74; St Annes, 71; Ardglass, 68; Killarney (Lackabane), 64; Portumna, 61; Bunclody, 59; Druids Heath, 55; Luttrellstown, 49; Farnham Estate, 48; Royal Portrush (Valley Course), 44; Concra Wood, 39; Powerscourt (West Course), 38; Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris Course), 33; Lough Erne, 22; Killeen Castle, 14.
Looking at that list it has to be conceded they are all impressive courses in their own right. Most have undergone renovation and improvement, while Lough Erne and Killeen Castle have been attracting excellent reviews.
But how does it figure that Royal Dublin, always a fine links but now an even better test after its overhaul, drops down five places to 18th?
The K Club's Palmer Course, host of the 2006 Ryder Cup and formerly the Smurfit European Open venue, also drops five places to 15th, and that seems a harsh judgement on a course that is always a challenge for players of any handicap.
Perhaps it's some consolation for the powers-that-be at Straffan that the Smurfit Course at Straffan -- a layout I've always felt was underrated -- is up six places to 34th.
Killarney's Killeen Course, which staged the '3' Irish Open, dropped nine places to 23. Is Lackabane that good by comparison with Killeen that it goes from being unranked to 64?
Similarly, Druids Glen slips down five places to 27, while Druids Heath soars as a new entry straight to 55. That's a generous upward rating for the Heath by comparison with the drop of its older brother.
Portmarnock Links is a course that I've played in February, July, and last month, and despite the different times of year, I found a commendable standard of quality and consistency, yet it dropped six spots to 31st.
Of course, it's all about opinions and the judges had to make their call as they saw it with each club, and the big moves up and down also reflects the expanded numbers in the panel.
In the case of the clubs which had featured previously in the rankings, it's happy days for a number of them which rose significantly up the charts.
Arklow leaped 21 places from 83 to 62; Nairn and Portnoo's refurbished and upgraded links is now 51st from last year's 80th; Dooks moves from 67 to 37; Portsalon is up 10 spots to 35; The Island moved from 18th to 12th and County Sligo accelerated from 16th to 11th.
Top 10 overall -- 1 Royal Co Down; 2 Portmarnock; 3 Royal Portrush; 4 The European Club; 5 Ballybunion (Old); 6 Waterville; 7 Lahinch; 8 Adare; 9 Co Louth; 10 Tralee.
Top 10 Links -- 1 Royal County Down; 2 Portmarnock; 3 Royal Portrush; 4 The European Club; 5 Ballybunion (Old); 6 Waterville; 7 Lahinch; 8 Co Louth; 9 Tralee; 10 Co Sligo
Top 10 Parkland -- 1 Adare; 2 Mount Juliet; 3 Killeen Castle; 4 The K Club (Palmer); 5 Lough Erne; 6 Killarney (Killeen); 7 Carlow; 8 Druids Glen; 9 Cork GC; 10 Carton House (Montgomerie).