Royal County Down rises to the top


GOLF IRISH COURSE RANKINGS:IT WAS a case of trading places as Royal County Down (RCD) assumed the number one spot from Portmarnock in this year’s Golf Digest Ireland top-100 ranked golf courses.

As the top two venues swapped positions, Royal Portrush (Antrim) and The European Club (Wicklow) moved up a place to third and fourth respectively, with the Old Course at Ballybunion (Kerry) unchanged from the previous rankings in fifth.

With Ireland boasting some of the best links course in the world, it comes as little surprise to find the top 10 is dominated by no fewer than nine links courses dotted around the coastline, with Adare Manor in Limerick the only parkland to hold its place within the leading 10, dropping one place from seventh to eighth.

The Palmer Course at the K Club dropped five places and out of the top 10 to 15th.

An 11-person panel – with five new faces – was assembled, and over four months they visited and assessed the clubs before meeting for a final time in October to draw up their top 100 list.

After much debate the panel based their selections on six key areas: shot-making/variety, design, memorability, condition, playability and degree of difficulty/ fairness.

The panel agreed on 20 clubs which could have merited top-10 selection, then voted on the courses using a marking system from one to 10, based on the above categories, before repeating the process down the list.

“Presentation has been one of our biggest aims over the last year, from the time visitors (and members) come through the gate to the time they leave. It’s about ensuring the best possible experience and that requires a team effort from all the staff,” explained Eamonn Crawford, Royal County Down head greenkeeper, who took over the top role earlier this year.

Reference was also made to a change in practice where the putting surfaces are concerned.

“The greens used to be ironed every day, but I’ve cut back on that this year as it puts less stress on the greens and gives them more density,” added Crawford, who generally runs the greens at around 10 on the stimpmeter as, any quicker, and club golfers “struggle to handle them”.

“Other than that, being kind to the natural turf is a key part of maintaining the course to the highest standard and making sure the whole place is tidy, as visitors are very important to the overall business.”

It is no secret Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell regularly avail of the chance to play the 2007 Walker Cup venue when not on the road.

“I know Rory loves it here and rates it as one of the best links courses he has played. There is a lot of shot-making required at RCD, you have to use every club in the bag, which makes for a great test of golf,” added Crawford, who has a core of 11 full-time greenstaff, rising to 20 in the summer.

There were a number of new entries this year with Killeen Castle (Meath), next year’s Solheim Cup venue, rated the highest at 14th, closely followed in 22nd by Lough Erne in Fermanagh, where McIlroy is attached as the touring professional.

Murvagh in Donegal and Dooks in Kerry made the biggest leaps of 30 places, into 19th and 37th respectively. Nairn and Portnoo (Donegal) climbed 29 places to 51st.

RCD was listed as Golf Digest Ireland top Irish course in 2008 and was recently ranked third in the Golf World Top 100 courses in Britain and Ireland, the highest of the 21 Irish entries in the poll.

SELECTION PANEL: Pádraig Ó hUiginn (chairman), Declan Branigan (course designer/ agronomist), Mark Gannon (RA selector), Garth McGimpsey (former Walker Cup captain), Michael McCumiskey (Irish PGA secretary), John Quigley (Irish Association of Golf Club Secretaries), Eddie Connaughton (agromonist)*, Kate McCann (Curtis Cup)*, Valerie Hassett (Curtis Cup)*, Cecil Whelan (Links Society founder)*, Ally McIntosh (course designer and writer)*.

(* New panellist – Note: for full listings visit



1 Royal County Down (Down) – up 1

2 Portmarnock (Dublin) – down 1

3Royal Portrush (Antrim) – up 1

4 European Club (Wicklow) – down 1

5 Ballybunion — Old (Kerry) – same

6Waterville (Kerry) – same

7 Lahinch (Clare) – up 1

8Adare (Limerick) – down 1

9 Co Louth (Louth) _ same

10 Tralee (Kerry) – up 1


1 Royal County Down

2 Portmarnock

3 Royal Portrush

4 The European Club

5 Ballybunion (Old)

6 Waterville

7 Lahinch

8 Co Louth (Baltray)

9 Tralee

10 Co Sligo


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

10 Carton House (Montgomerie)