Royal County Down setting high standards
Liam Kelly puts the spotlight on how Irish clubs fared in two magazines' 'Top 100' course rankings
Irish golf courses can compete with the best layouts on the planet, but when it comes to ratings and pronouncing judgement on the quality of the product, there's good and bad news.
Internationally, the golf magazines who present their 'Top 100' each year, have an influence on the perception of overseas golfers, particularly since the internet affords an opportunity to present their rankings to a worldwide audience, as opposed to merely the print circulation as was the case prior to the introduction of the worldwide web.
A high placing is always welcome, but it can be a double-edged sword.
Rankings change year by year and who wants to be seen to be going down in the charts as opposed to rising closer to the coveted top-10 and top five?
This applies to all courses, but particularly to those acknowledged to be in the premier league of internationally renowned golf facilities.
We have our own Irish Top 100, presented by 'Golf Digest Ireland', and 'Backspin' magazine.
Both magazines, sensibly, have separate categories for links and parkland courses which gives a measure of fairness in considering one club against another in the style of golf it offers.
On the broader front, it is always interesting to see how our golf is rated in a larger setting, particularly under the banner of the 'Top 100 in the UK and Ireland.'
But whether it's confined to Ireland, or included in an overall Britain and Ireland context, there is one certainty: the rankings provoke debate, they divide opinion, and can provoke anger and disappointment among those who feel hard done by when the numbers are crunched.
All the magazines who do the ratings work very hard to obtain a cross-section of opinion and spare no effort to be fair to all.
But once numbers are involved, and one course is placed above another, controversy is sure to follow.
Do rankings cause material harm in the long term to any club? Unlikely.
I have yet to see an adverse comment in any of the ratings features. If there's a bone of contention, it rests with the placing, and therein lies the crux of the matter.
Overall, these lists should inspire golfers to want to play as many as possible, because golf in these islands, particularly Ireland, has so much to offer.
That point is borne out by the number of Irish facilities in the 'Golf Monthly' and 'Today's Golfer' magazines' most recent presentation of their 'Top 100 in the UK and Ireland.'
Given that the UK has over 2,000 18-hole courses, and we have over 400 in Ireland, it's pretty impressive to have 22 Irish out of a hundred in the former, and 18 in the latter magazine's list.
Pat Ruddy, owner and designer of the European Club, also comes out well, as four of the courses he crafted - The European, Rosapenna (Sandy Hills), Ballyliffin (Glashedy) with the late Tom Craddock, and Druids Glen (also with Tom Craddock), feature in the 'Golf Monthly' rankings.
It's also fascinating to observe the differences in ratings given to the various Irish courses contained in their lists. Donald Trump, the US President-elect will be pleased that his Trump Turnberry (Ailsa) course is number one in 'Golf Monthly' while 'Today's Golfer' went for Royal County Down as their top layout in these islands.
This is how the Irish fared in the respective magazine polls ('Golf Monthly' figures first):
Royal County Down Third in 'Golf Monthly' (GM); took first place in 'Today's Golfer' (TG). RCD's reputation and quality was enhanced by its hosting of the Irish Open in 2015.
Royal Portrush 13th in GM; 8th in TG. Improvements for Open in 2019 will surely push it further up the rankings.
Ballybunion (Old) 15 in GM; 13 in TG. With some subtle recent design changes, Tom Watson's favourite Irish links continues to hold its high rating.
Waterville 18 in GM; 10 in TG. Arguably somewhere in between would be about right.
European Club 19 in GM; 18 in TG. Consistent across the two lists; No doubt Pat Ruddy would feel it should be much higher.
Portmarnock (Red & Blue) 27 in GM; 20 in TG. Bit of a surprise to see such a renowned links outside top-15.
Lahinch (Old) 28 in GM; 16 in TG. Testing course, a great challenge. Significant improvements made.
Trump International (Doonbeg) 32 in GM; 29 in TG. The Donald had the course almost completely overhauled when he took over.
Old Head 35 in GM; 58 in TG. Unique property on the Old Head of Kinsale. Again, quite a difference of opinion here.
Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) 45 in GM; 50 in TG. I wouldn't argue if Old Head and Sandy Hills swapped places in the GM list.
Tralee 49 in GM; 95 in TG. Tralee was up four in 'Golf Monthly' and deserves to be higher in TG. Co Louth 55 in GM; 67 in TG. Always provides a very satisfying, fair links experience. Fine championship venue.
Ballyliffin (Glashedy) 69 in GM; 55 in TG. This is seaside golf as good as you'll get. Classic links undulating territory. The Island 72 in GM; 51 in TG. People always talk in glowing terms about The Island, and further enhancements are on the way
Druids Glen 73 in GM; Not in TG list. The voting panels from the 'Today's Golfer' obviously favour the links offering in Ireland but Druids has to be considered one of our best parkland courses.
Mount Juliet 77 in GM; Not in TG list. Proven world-class championship golf course, with Tiger Woods and Ernie Els winners of the WGC-Amex in 2002 and 2004 respectively.
Lough Erne 80 in GM; Not in TG list. Nick Faldo design, beautiful scenic setting.
County Sligo 87 in GM; 56 in TG. The home of the West of Ireland Championship, a top-class links which deserves a higher rating from 'Golf Monthly'. Pat Ruddy is overseeing some subtle improvements at a steady rate of progress.
The K Club (Palmer) 88 in GM; Not in TG list. The 2006 Ryder Cup venue on the Arnold Palmer-designed course has proven its pedigree, and again, could hope for better results in the future.
Portmarnock Links 92 in GM; Not in TG list. Up six places by GM. The owners invested around €1 million euro on course improvements and €9 million in the hotel refurbishment.
Carne (Hackett) 93 in GM; 59 in TG. Eddie Hackett's design is another course about which I have yet to hear anything but praise and admiration.
Enniscrone 94 in GM; 53 in TG. Some spectacular holes played through soaring dunes makes a round at Enniscrone a memorable experience.
For convenience and because 'Golf Monthly' was the most recent Top 100 publication, we chose to put the GM rankings first. It should be noted, however, that while Donegal was not in the GM rankings, it did get 91st in the 'Today's Golfer' list.
Apart from that, two notable contenders for future consideration are Royal Dublin and Adare Manor.
The Dollymount links is even better now than it was when Seve Ballesteros (three) and Bernhard Langer (one) triumphed in Irish Opens in the early 1980s, while Adare Manor is consistently rated the top parkland in Ireland and is currently undergoing a major revamp.