Teamwork is the key to success in any enterprise, so we called on some of the biggest names in Irish golf to add their magical touch to our list of The Top 50 Holes in Irish Golf.
Deciding what makes a great hole is as subjective a task as defining great beauty, but in choosing our Top 50, we feel we have captured at least part of the essence of what makes Ireland a place of pilgrimage for golfers from every corner of the globe. The holes that made our final list include high-tariff terrors, the great beauties and the quirky ones we all love so well – but we also asked a host of top Irish players and designers to give us a personal Top 5 and their views on what makes a great hole great.
Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington profiles the Irish holes that keep him awake at night, while Paul McGinley provides his Top 5 and pens a foreword explaining the importance of our unique links courses to the Irish economy.
You will hear the voice of Open champion Shane Lowry describing his favourites and the views of fellow tour players Eamonn Darcy, Gavin Moynihan, Paul Dunne, Cormac Sharvin and Leona Maguire on the holes they love most.
You can also compare your favourites with those of amateur greats such as James Sugrue, Mark Gannon, Declan Branigan and Olivia Mehaffey or read what golf course architects Pat Ruddy, Ken Kearney and Jeff Howes consider the vital ingredients in an irresistible hole. But that is not all.
This digital version of The Top 50 Holes in Irish Golf features audio descriptions of the favourites of PGA professionals, club managers and top amateurs, familiar names such as Barry Reddan, Carol Wickham, Peter O’Keeffe, Dr Kevin Flanagan, Robin Dawson, Hazel Kavanagh, Gary Murphy, Noel Fox and Kevan Whitson, to name just a few.
Spectacular photography helps bring it all to life while the digital version also features unique flyover videos from Golfbirdie and Golfgraffix, whose new digital scoring app on its ClubNet platform has been such a help to clubs during the pandemic.
Here are the top ten holes in Ireland, as selected by our experts.
10. County Louth
5th (The Haven), 173 yards, par 3
One of the game’s great par-threes, the elevated green sits under a high dune and is protected short by pot bunkers with run-offs on all sides. Miss right and making four will be a challenge while shots heading left or long will tumble away into trouble, just as Tom Simpson and Molly Gourlay intended.
“I would put the fifth as one one of the best holes in the world,” Pádraig Harrington said. “It is just 173 yards, not a beast of a hole but just a superb par-three, it really is. I would definitely put five as my favourite hole in Baltray. But you don’t miss it right!”
If you were terrified of the River Maigue standing on the 15th tee, you will have to deal with it at least twice on this terrific par-five. Those hoping to go for the green in two must take the tiger line down the left side, flirting with the river where England’s Richard Finch famously took an early bath on route to victory in the 2008 Irish Open.
A good drive down the right will still allow you to play for the pristine, bentgrass approach left of the green or take your chances and go for the jackpot. If you lay-up, you must be careful to avoid the water at all costs. The third shot across the river is fraught with danger given that the firm and fast green sits at an angle to the player, protected short by water, left by sand and long by a ferocious swale where the putter is your friend. A truly great finishing hole that will likely make for riveting viewing when the course host the 2027 Ryder Cup matches.
8. County Sligo
17th (The Gallery), 470 yards, par 4
A visit to Rosses Point is a golfing pilgrimage for the faithful and as you tee it up under Ben Bulben’s watchful gaze, you will play many great holes on this Harry Colt masterpiece. If the weather gods are angry, you may be pleading for mercy as you head down| the home stretch and there is no let-up at the magnificent par-four, which plays uphill, against the prevailing breeze.
While it’s over 270 yards from the back tee to run through the fairway, a big drive down the right-hand-side is required to give you a full view of one of the most theatrical green settings in golf. There are no bunkers to catch what will likely be an uphill approach of more than 200 yards. Making this treacherous green is only half the battle as it slopes severely from back to front. A par here is something to treasure, just like those magnificent Sligo views of Ben Bulben and Knocknarea. A magical place.
One of the great drivable par-fours in Irish golf, the 14th at Baltray is the perfect example of that old adage that small is beautiful. Played from a high tee, a favourable wind will give the big hitters a chance to go for the green on a hole that does not need bunkers for its defence.
If you avoid the heavy rough, you will have a short iron to an elevated and highly contoured green that will reward the crisp strike and repel the poor shot, leaving you a testing recovery chip. Finding the fairway is generally key to making birdie as even the greatest players in Irish golf have walked away pencilling in a six or worse having had no more than the flick of a wedge for their approach.
Lahinch has many great holes from the spectacular sixth and the delightful short par-four 13th to the muscular 15th to name but a few. But it’s impossible to play the charming Clare links without The Dell being indelibly marked on your consciousness.
It’s an almost totally blind, 154-yard par-three where the green nestles in the bosom of two dunes, the first of them topped with a whitewashed stone indicating the line to the pin.
Like the famous fourth, Klondyke, it’s one of two holes created in 1894 when Old Tom Morris was commissioned to make full use of the natural links terrain and Lahinch’s dramatic dunes and a must-play hole for any keen golfer, even if it would never be designed today. As precious a gem as you will find in Irish golf and utterly unforgettable.
5. The European Club
7th (Arnold Palmer), 470 yards, par 4
Named after one of the most swashbuckling players of all time, the seventh at The European Club is not for the faint-hearted. Its creator, Pat Ruddy, is a master in his use of the optical illusion and what he describes as “the death penalty” that awaits failure at this muscular par-four makes it the ultimate hole for the golfing thrill-seeker.
With a stream, which is out of bounds, running almost the entire length of the right-hand-side, it is fraught with danger. A reed bed, which is out of range for most from the back tee, immediately draws the eye, tempting you to brave the far more dangerous line to the right.
Add to that the fact that the fairway narrows as the hole progresses and the reverse telescopic effect makes you believe the green is miles away. With OB lurking green side and two ominous bunkers faced with railway sleepers awaiting the ball heading left, it’s what WB Yeats would have described as “a terrible beauty” and one of golf’s must-play holes.
4. Royal Portrush
16th (Calamity Corner), 236 yards, par 3
Great golf holes don’t have to be intimidating by definition, but the 16th at Royal Portrush most certainly falls into this category. From the Championship tee, it’s a 236-yard terror, requiring the golfer to carry a deep chasm on the right handmade to get close to a hole cut on the right half of the green.
The sensible golfer can play for the front left corner hoping to catch a piece of the green or, at worst, run into Bobby Locke’s Hollow, leaving them a relatively straightforward pitch towards the flag. Shane Lowry went 3-2-3-3 there en route to his memorable win in The Open last summer on a hole ranked the third most difficult with a scoring average of 3.37.
3. Ballybunion (Old Course)
11th (Watson’s) 473 yards, par 4
One of the finest par-fours in the world, this links classic is not for the faint-hearted — especially for the right-hander with a slice. Set hard by the Atlantic shoreline, the prevailing wind blows off the ocean from your right, forcing you to take a brave line down the boundary line, or even further right, if you want to find the bunkerless fairway below and the ideal line home from the left side of the fairway.
The second shot is a deliciously tempting one, played downhill to a green guarded in front by twin dunes that stand on sentry duty like the pillars of Hercules.
It’s a high tariff shot that forces you to carry you approach all the way to a small, narrow green where there is trouble lurking on every side. As the great American golf scribe Herbert Warren Wind wrote of his visit to the course in 1971, the 11th is “a perfect beauty … that tumbles downhill along the cliffs to an inviting green.”
Great courses are replete with great holes and Portmarnock could boast half a dozen worthy of the name. The brilliant, short par-four eighth with its enchanting green, the beguiling tactical challenge of the 10th, the brilliantly designed 14th with its sensational green complex or the risk-reward nature of the 16th are some of the finest holes in the game.
It’s been said that what makes a hole genuinely great is its memorability and in that regard, it would be hard to beat the design brilliance of the par-three 15th. Set hard by the beach, it measures over 200 yards from the back tee, and if the wind is blowing left to right, the golfer must fly his ball over the Valley of Sin on the left to find the green or over the out of bounds fencing bordering the beach, if it is blowing from the seaside.
Highly skilled players can try to hold their shot against the breeze on a hole where a bogey is often a challenge.
Ben Crenshaw won his first overseas title at Portmarnock in 1976, capturing the Carroll’s Irish Open. He conceded, however, that the course was the real winner. “Especially that 15th,” he said. “I vividly remember the hole. I used to call it the easiest par-five in the world. You’d have to start it out-of-bounds to get on the green.”
Ask Royal County Down head professional Kevan Whitson his favourite spot on the great Newcastle links, and he won’t hesitate for a second. “The back tee at the fourth,” he says at the course where the Mourne Mountains sweep down to the sea. “I never tire of it.
When I stand there and look at that view, it brings me back to when I first came here more than 20 years ago. It’s still the same, still absolutely magical – one of the great views in golf with the mountains sitting behind the golf course.
It is just amazing.” Considering the beauty of the ninth, the difficulty of the wonderful seventh and eighth, his choice of the fourth speaks volumes about its merits. Measuring 228 yards from the elevated back tee, it’s one of the great par-threes in golf, challenging the golfer to fly a nest of bunkers with a long-iron and find a long, narrow green that is defended by gentle run-offs on each side.
Accuracy is key on this hugely intimidating par-three where the shot that comes up short will disappear into one of those famous, fringe-topped bunkers while approaches missing left, right or long will leave a very challenging chip.