Home » Feature Story

The Delicious Dozen: Ireland's 12 most scenic golf courses

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer
Old Head Golf Links
View large image
| More photos
Photos don't do justice to the cliffs and coastline of Old Head Golf Links in County Cork. (Courtesy of Old Head Golf Links)

A "best-of" list about golf in Ireland without the Old Course at Ballybunion and Old Course at Lahinch?

This must be an April Fool's joke. Or a writer on his fifth glass of Irish whiskey.

The fact that Ballybunion and Lahinch just missed being included in this story about Ireland's most scenic courses speaks more about the competition than anything.

Ballybunion and Lahinch are beautiful by every definition. Dunes and ocean views deliver serene settings of the highest magnitude. Lahinch even has a castle to serve as eye candy and an aiming point.

The truth is, gorgeous courses are a dime a dozen in Ireland. I could easily include Dooks Golf Club, the O'Meara Course at Carton House, The Island Golf Club, Carne Golf Links, Rosapenna's Sandy Hills, Waterville Golf Links, the Old Course and Glashedy Course at Ballyliffin Golf Club and others.

It takes a real supermodel to be considered what I'm calling the "Delicious Dozen," the prettiest golf courses in all of Ireland.

Tralee Golf Club in County Kerry, Ireland

I'll start with my favorite. Tralee has it all -- panoramic vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and beaches, cliffs that come into play on the second hole and castle ruins worth exploring behind the third green. The back nine offers up one epic hole after another.

Adare Manor Golf Club in County Limerick, Ireland

I might catch some grief for this one because there are a few holes on this parkland playground that look like any American country club. But the stretch of the back nine along the River Maigue with the striking Neogothic Adare Manor in full view are unforgettable. The 7,453-yard golf course ranks as the final jewel in the crown of Robert Trent Jones Sr. It was the last major project on which he worked, opening in 1995.

Old Head Golf Links in County Cork, Ireland

Photos don't do justice to the cliffs and coastline of Old Head Golf Links, which occupies a 220-acre, diamond-shaped promontory that juts into the Atlantic Ocean. Its iconic black-and-white lighthouse sits at land's end. Tees and greens are cut so precariously close to 300-foot cliffs that only red ropes and signs that read "Do Not Pass" stand between you and a watery plunge. Golfers who don't like heights need not apply.

Royal County Down Golf Club in County Down, Northern Ireland

Blind shots make Royal County Down a wicked test, but players don't seem to mind because everything looks so stunning. The Mountains of Mourne and tumultuous dunes, lined with golden gorse and purple fescue, become a kaleidoscope of colors in the morning and at twilight.

The European Club in County Wicklow, Ireland

The inland views are just as memorable as the holes hugging the Irish Sea. The rolling countryside of Wicklow is so scenic it is called the "Garden of Ireland." The European Club's wooden-plank bunkers -- a devilish touch by owner/architect Pat Ruddy -- add visual contrast but play oh-so-intimidating.

Druids Glen Golf Club in County Wicklow, Ireland

Another course cut from the "Garden of Ireland," Druids Glen has been called the "Augusta National of Europe." The Irish Open host from 1996-99 delivers immaculate playing conditions. The flora and fauna mix with water features to create some picturesque moments, especially on the back nine.

County Sligo Golf Club in County Sligo, Ireland

Golfers can see five Irish counties on a clear day from several elevated tees on the front nine at County Sligo G.C. The back nine introduces up-close encounters with Benbulben Mountain and Drumcliffe Bay. This landscape inspired the great works of poet W.B. Yeats.

Doonbeg Golf Club in County Clare, Ireland

Greg Norman's links has matured wonderfully since 2002. Doonbeg Golf Club is now more playable, a trait that allows golfers to cherish the setting along Doughmore Bay even more. Sixty-foot-high dunes line the first hole, a great first impression, but my favorite spot is looking down the beach from the 14th green back at the magnificent stone Lodge at Doonbeg.

Ardglass Golf Club in County Down, Northern Ireland

The first five holes at Ardglass dance along rocky cliff tops above the Irish Sea. A clubhouse converted from a 13th century castle adds even more character to this unique 6,268-yard, par-70 course set in a sleepy fishing village.

Dunlunce Course at Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

The host of the 2012 Irish Open and the 1951 British Open continues to be an iconic tournament venue. The fifth hole on the Dunlance Course at Royal Portrush provides the best scenery, staring down the coast to the Dunluce Castle. The scene on the 17th tee is menacing, however. The fear of hitting into "Big Nellie," one of the largest bunkers in the world, is on everybody's mind during the backswing.

Strand Course at Portstewart Golf Club in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland

The opening shot from an elevated tee on the Strand Course at Portstewart reveals a rousing front nine. The club added new holes in 1992, a stretch from nos. 2-8 that winds through some of the Causeway Coast's most stunning dunes.

Enniscrone Golf Club in County Sligo, Ireland

Like Portstewart, Enniscrone Golf Club also benefited from a major redesign. In 2001, British architect Donald Steel added six new holes through some of the largest dunes in the world. The ninth hole skirts Scurmore Beach. Feelings of grandeur can occur throughout the day.

More photos

The European Club - hole 13Royal County Down Golf Club - dunesRoyal Portrush Golf Club - Dunluce CourseAdare Manor Golf Club - hole 18Ardglass Golf Club - hole 1

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Delicious Dozen

    Simon Russell wrote on: Jul 7, 2014

    I have played 10 of the 12 (missed Ardglass and no Interest in playing Old Head). Druids Glen and Adare Manor are nice American stlyed Courses but by no means stunning. Both Courses in Ballyliffen leave them for dead. Donegal Golf Club is also a treat with stunning views.Royal Dublin and St Annes overlooking Dublin Bay and courses like Seapoint and Laytown/Bettystown have great views. Rossapenna and Portsalon in Donegal Portmarnock has wonderful views of Howth head, Portmarnock Beach the estuary at Baldoyle and East to Irelands Eye. Of Your twelve i agree with Tralee stunning, European Club, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush Dunluce, Enniscrone back nine, Strand Course Portstewart front nine, Dun Laoghaire, Greenore and Strandhill. Nine Hole Courses should not be excluded just because they 9 holes you actually get the great views twice. Cruit Island is a gem as is Ardfert in Kerry, Sutton in North Dublin, Helens Bay that looks over Belfast Lough. If you looking for great views Howth Golf Club looks over the entire city of Dublin from the North Side and Stackstown gives the South Side vista would all beat Druids Glen and Adare Manor in my view as would Mount Juliet and K Club Palmer Course


  • Delicious Golf

    J.Penson wrote on: Jul 8, 2013

    I have played many many rounds in Ireland.Ballybunion and Lahinch are exceptional....Port Salon is beautiful,
    the big course at Rosapenna if you like punishmnent,Castle Rock along the tracks,and of course Portrush where I am proud to be a member.The European Club
    is pretty good as well.How do you decide?JP


  • Fantastic

    Jennie wrote on: May 23, 2013

    My partner and I are planning to go to Ireland next week. Thanks for posting this. We enjoy playing golf a lot. Last valentine's day, we had to stay indoors but we were still able to practice our putting games without leaving the house thanks to this nifty product. Hope you check it out and enjoy it, too!


  • Tralee

    Kieran Ruttledge wrote on: May 22, 2013

    Certainly agree that Tralee is the most spectacular course for views. Each of the 18 holes has a view of the sea, "designed by Arnold Palmer but created by God" - You will not be disappointed.


  • Old Head at Kinsale

    dyakimec wrote on: May 18, 2013

    I stand by my course review posted in World Golf back in 2012.
    "Ireland is blessed with some magnificent golf tracts but if there's one course to play in Ireland, you need look no further than Old Head. It's one of the few courses you'll play where a round will last a lifetime. It's that good."


      • Myrtle Beach Golf Package

        feonicamartinez wrote on: May 21, 2013

        Indeed! Ireland has lots of magnificent golf courses. My favorite the most is the O'Meara Course at Carton House. So beautiful!


Comments Leave a comment