Wednesday 21 March 2018

Timely rankings rise for Portrush

A view of the green on the 5th hole at Royal Portrush which continues to receive plaudits
A view of the green on the 5th hole at Royal Portrush which continues to receive plaudits

DOCTORS differ and patients die, but when it comes to judging golf courses, it's all about opinion and debate.

And depending on outsiders' views of a course -- especially in relation to ranking lists -- feelings can become heated in golf club bars and locker rooms.

Ireland produces two sets of course rankings, courtesy of our leading golf magazines -- 'Golf Digest Ireland' and 'Backspin Magazine'. The former produces an annual listing, while the latter brings out a biennial ranking.

The two publications put serious effort into producing credible rankings, each utilising the services and opinions of leading figures from the golfing world -- including professionals, top amateurs, officials and members of the media.

The 'GDI' produces its verdict on the Top 100 courses, while 'Backspin' divides the ratings between the top 25 links and top 30 parkland courses.

'Backspin Magazine' has now released its latest ranking list.

It is interesting to note that Royal Portrush's Dunluce course, which hosts the 2012 Irish Open, was voted No 1, up from third place and replacing Portmarnock (Old), which was last year's top links.

Is that an immediate boost because of the Irish Open moving to Portrush, or is it mere coincidence?

The answer, says magazine owner and editor Declan O'Donoghue, is the latter.

"We had our rankings finished before the announcement. We had 55 voters on our panel and operated on a points system.

"The Dunluce course received 12 top votes, 11 second and third preferences, and eight fourth preferences for a total of 10,545 points. Portmarnock had 10,475 votes and Royal Co Down 9,995 points.

"It's a very deserving course and has always finished in the top three in our rankings," he said.

In the Parkland section, Mount Juliet stays at No 1 for the third year running, a feat which drew a tribute to the late Tim Mahony from course designer Jack Nicklaus.

Mahony bought the McCalmont Estate in 1987 and brought in Nicklaus to design a top-class course.

Mahony, a legend in the motor industry, died in 2008, but in his lifetime he had seen the great and the good play tournament golf at Mount Juliet, which hosted the Irish Open from 1993 to 1995, the Shell Wonderful World of Golf in 1998 and the WGC AmEx Championship in 2002 and 2004.

"Tim was a wonderful man who worked tirelessly to do things the right way. I am delighted that in Tim's honour, and as a tribute to him, Mount Juliet has received this recognition again," said Nicklaus.

There is no doubt that the value of hosting big tournaments will enhance a course's reputation, and that is evident by the upward trend of Killarney's Killeen course and Killeen Castle.

Killarney held the Irish Open for the last two years and moves up one place to fourth in parkland, while Solheim Cup venue Killeen Castle broke into the top 10 to claim sixth place.

I was interested in comparing this magazine's ratings with those of 'GDI', which appeared recently.

Although the latter's main presentation is a 'Top 100' listing, they also include a separate leaderboard of links and parkland.

However, looking at the respective lists of top-ranked courses from the two publications, we are reminded just what a treasure trove of golfing experience is available in this country.

There is one anomaly: in 'Backspin', the Old Head is treated as a links, while in 'GDI', it comes under the category of parkland.

The club's official title is Old Head Golf Links, but purists might argue there is a parkland element to the course.

Here are the respective listings:

Irish Independent

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