Picturesque: Golf courses of the Irish Open

An interesting question to ponder: Would you rather play the public courses that have hosted the U.S. Open or Irish Open?

Most golfers will jump on the U.S. Open train, citing Pebble Beach Golf Links, Bethpage Black, Pinehurst No. 2 and the like. Me? I'm going all Ireland, all the time in this debate.

All 20 host venues of the Irish Open, dating to 1927, are open to the public, including some of the greatest links in the world. Scroll through the adjacent photo gallery to tour all but one of them.

Compare these 20 courses with only six U.S. Open venues open to the public. Would you rather play a faux links like Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) and Erin Hills (2017 U.S. Open) or experience the real thing at Royal County Down (Irish Opens in 1928, 1935, 1939 and 2015), the Dunluce at Royal Portrush (Irish Opens in 1930, 1937, 1947 and 2012) and the Old course at Ballybunion (2000 Irish Open).

The announcement that the Old course at Lahinch Golf Club will hold the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, its first pro tournament, brings another historic links into the fold. The European Tour's dedicated effort to bring new links courses into the rotation - the Strand at Portstewart Golf Club in 2017 and Glashedy at Ballyliffin Golf Club in 2018 - has been a boon for the event.

No course has hosted more Irish Opens than the Championship Course at Portmarnock Golf Club, 19 in all. Its location just north of Dublin makes sense logistically for fans hoping to attend, attracting corporate sponsorship from Dublin-based businesses and the convenience of a nearby international airport for players, etc. For similar reasons, other Dublin-area clubs have been given a turn: Royal Dublin Golf Club (1931, 1936, 1950, 1983-85), Mount Juliet Golf Club (1993-95), Druids Glen (1996-99), Carton House (2005-06, 2013), County Louth (2004, 2009) and The K Club (2016).

The other Irish Open venues not mentioned yet are all strong in their own ways. Adare Manor's golf club (2007-08) and magnificent mansion were recently modernized by Irish billionaire J.P. McManus in hopes of landing the 2026 Ryder Cup. Fota Island Resort's Deerpark course (2001-02, 2014) and Killarney Golf & Fishing Club's Killeen course (1991-92, 2010-11) are best known for their lovely lakeside views. The Cork Golf Club (1932) has ties to Dr. Alister Mackenzie (as does Lahinch). Although I've not played any of them, the Woodbrook Golf Club (1975), Belvoir Park Golf Club (1949, 1953) and Malone Golf Club (1933) are all respected clubs with nice parkland courses.

Okay, let's get back to answering the original question: If I could only choose a Deegan's Dozen of the Irish Open venues to play, here's how I'd go about sorting my tee times and why:

1. Royal Portrush. I need to play the two new holes sometime after they debut in The Open in 2019, the club's first major since 1951.
2. Lahinch. A great club with so much character - castle ruins, a flagman for crisscrossing fairways, blind shots at the Dell and Klondyke holes and those lovable goats.
3. Ballybunion. To play No. 14 and 15, the best back-to-back par 3s in the world. Ballybunion sports recently restored greens, bunkers and a new 18th hole as well.
4. Royal County Down. If I see 'RCD' enough, then maybe I'll eventually master those five blind tee shots in the first 11 holes.
5. Ballyliffin. Site of my infamous "mulligan ace", where my first tee shot on no. 8 blew into the dunes but the second landed in the hole.
6. Mount Juliet. One of the rare Irish courses I haven't checked off my bucket list.
7. County Louth. So playable and near some great watering holes in Malahide.
8. Portmarnock. Maybe the third time will be the charm for finally shooting my handicap.
9. Portstewart. The front side makes a strong claim for one of the best dune-laden loops on the Emerald Isle.
10. Royal Dublin. Such a proud club so convenient to the city and its trappings.
11. The K Club. To relive fond memories of helping the Americans win a media match-play competition a few months before the actual 2006 Ryder Cup.
12. Adare Manor. To return to see all the changes, and spend the night to experience living in luxury like a 19th-century lord.

Lastly, I can't sing the praises of the Irish Open's courses without a nod to all the great players over the years. Here's a little trivia: How many Irish Open winners have captured a major?

The answer is 16, and it's a nice list of current and future hall of famers - Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Michael Campbell, Sergio Garcia, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green, Fred Daly, Bobby Locke, Alf Padgham, Reginald Whitcombe and George Duncan.

The Irish Open might not have the prestige of a U.S. Open, or even a Scottish Open for that matter, but this story and these photos prove just how good it is.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 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 Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
11 Comments
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Commented on

Just returned from a trip to Ireland and played Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin and Portstewart Strand. I would agree that the front nine on the Strand are a great bunch of holes. I am in awe of the pros abilities at Glashedy Links though. Those fairways are ribbon thin and wind through the dunes. To hit them you need incredible precision and the ability to hit the right shape shot. I also played a great and fairly unknown course at the Rosapenna Estate called Sandy Hills, it gets my vote for the best layout I’ve ever played. It’s a true Links that has 18 holes in one loop.

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Another great golf course in the south west is the Ring of Kerry with spectacular scenery and superb greens.

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Dave Mazzella

Old Head in Kinsale is one of the most spectacular courses in the world!

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Absolutely...and the Faldo parkland course Loch Eirn is spectacular, too...

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Have you had the opportunity to play Carne in Belmullet ?

If so, your thoughts ?

I'm thinking it is a must on my next trip.

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Great track - the original 18 is a tough links test - really from Connemara to Narin & Portnoo you have 7 great courses...

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It’s one of the great unsung links of the world. Definitely worth tracking down.

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I have played most of those courses Royal County Down is the best track in the world. Also big fan of Royal Portrush
I have not heard about the 2 new holes. Ballybunion old also great golf course.

John Holbrook

Commented on

I have played a few of the Ireland courses and heading back in September but I can't imagine a list of great Ireland courses without including Waterville.

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Waterville has never hosted an Irish Open.

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I agree 100% having just returned from Ireland after playing Port Stewart, Royal Portrush, Royal County Down and Portmarnock. This wasn't my first trip to the Emerald Isle and can't wait for the next time...

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Picturesque: Golf courses of the Irish Open
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