Planning Your Irish Golf Adventure: 9 Must-Play Courses in Ireland
Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, and Ballybunion make the top 20 of most world lists, and rightly so. However, outside of these spectacular, unmissable venues, what other courses on the Island of Ireland are must-plays for your next golf trip?
1. Rosapenna – St Patricks Links
Starting with the newest name on the list of Ireland’s must-play courses, St Patrick’s Links at Rosapenna opened in 2021, to much fanfare. And it is fair to say it has lived up to the hype, as this masterpiece from Tom Doak immediately entered the World Top 100. Set on a terrain of grand dunes, the course routes effortlessly, presenting beautiful views that will live long in the memory.
Golf at Rosapenna actually dates back to the 1800s, with the Old Tom Morris Links and Sandy Hills Links making for a great stay-and-play trio.
Downings – a seaside village on the Rosguill Peninsula in County Donegal. Downings has beautiful beaches, with spectacular views across Sheephaven Bay to the Ards Peninsula and the Muckish Mountain. Sheephaven Bay, where Rosapenna is located, is one of the best areas for sailing, water sports, and deep-sea angling on the north coast. You can also take in the Wild Atlantic Drive here – one of the shortest and most stunning scenic drives in Ireland.
Length: 6,930 yards
Designer: Tom Doak
2. Ballyliffin – Glashedy Links
Only 20 miles East along the Northern coast of Ireland (although it’s a much longer drive around the headland) sits Ballyliffin. Another destination offering more than one course, with The Glashedy Links, The Old Links, and a fun, new 9-hole Par 3 by Pat Ruddy. Both 18s justify the trip, but our must-play vote goes to Glashedy.
Glashedy Links opened in 1995, meandering around towering dunes, formed by the north Atlantic winds. These conditions now form part of the challenge of these true links, with exceptional surfaces, this natural layout provides the perfect test.
“Ballyliffin’s two courses are a must-play on any golf trip to Ireland” – Rory McIlroy.
Ballyliffin – a small village located at the north-western tip of Inishowen in County Donegal. It’s a place of great natural beauty, enjoying spectacular views of Glashedy Island and the Atlantic Ocean. Inishowen is known for its award-winning beaches, rugged coastline, beautiful woodland, and stunning rivers – as well as fantastic food, activities, and attractions.
Length: 7,423 yards
Designers: Pat Ruddy, Tom Craddock
3. Portstewart – The Strand
Complementing the famous Ulster Royals, Portstewart sits on the river Bann estuary, shared with the neighboring and highly acclaimed Castlerock Golf Club.
Only 5 miles west of Portrush, this really is an iconic stretch of links golf. Portstewart offers 3 18’s, with ‘The Strand’ being the headline act. Combining the natural conditions with teasing bunkers, undulating fairways, and immaculate greens, The Strand provides as pure a test of links golf as you will find.
Atlantic views presented across the ancient land complete the experience, ensuring that this will be an unforgettable day on the course.
Portstewart – a small town in County Londonderry. Portstewart is a charming tourist destination on the north coast. As well as the golf club, it has a beautiful harbor, a stunning beach, a promenade, cafes, parks, restaurants, and outdoor swimming pools. It attracts a lot of visitors who want to explore the Causeway Coast, but are seeking a peaceful and relaxed place where they can escape from the business of daily life.
Length: 7,118 yards
Designers: A G Gow, Willie Park Jr., Des Giffin
Alongside Portstewart, Ardglass is an ideal addition to a Northern Ireland golf trip beyond the headliners. Sitting on a peninsula, overlooking the Irish Sea, a key feature of this layout is its exposure to the elements.
With 8 holes of the 18 running alongside the coast, and the first two tee shots playing across cliff edges, a round at Ardglass will prove as challenging as it is beautiful – and may require a backup sleeve of balls.
Famously home to the world’s oldest clubhouse, dating back to the 1400s, Ardglass is a golf destination for the soul as well as the swing.
Ardglass – a beautiful fishing village in County Down which overlooks the Irish Sea. Home to six castles, a stunning harbor, and several historical sites, this picturesque location is the perfect sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle. County Down is home to Northern Ireland’s most dramatic mountain range, Game of Thrones’ Winterfell castle, and the largest sea lough in Great Britain and Ireland.
Length: 6,268 yards
Designers: Thomas MacAfee, David Jones
5. Old Head
Undoubtedly one of the most spectacular settings for a golf course in the world, alongside the likes of Pebble Beach, Cape Kidnappers, and Cabot Cliffs.
Opening in 1997, this incredible property perches atop a peninsula, jetting out 2 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by crashing waves, and framed by the iconic striped lighthouse, Old Head is the very definition of a must-play golf course.
The challenging, tight terrain results in a course designed for walking, with no less than 9 holes playing along the cliffs and offering views out over the sea; you’ll soon understand why this marks the start of the stretch of Ireland’s coastline referred to as the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’.
Kinsale – a small town in County Cork. Located at the start of the Wild Atlantic Way, Kinsale’s stunning and quirky appearance is defined by its brightly multi-colored houses and two impressive forts. Historically a strategic port town, it’s now known for its fabulous restaurants, gourmet food festivals, welcoming people with a vibrant, and energetic atmosphere.
Designers: Ron Kirby, Paddy Merrigan, Liam Higgins
6. Lahinch – Old Course
Described by Old Tom Morris as “the finest natural course he had ever seen”, Lahinch typifies links golf on Ireland’s western shores. A perfect addition to the southwestern trail, alongside the links of Ballybunion.
Filled with the quirks and character of a course designed by the land, Lahich is a truly unique golfing experience.
It’s easy to get lost in amongst the towering dues of this remote layout, providing the escapism and connection to nature many pursue from the game.
The second course at Lahinch, the ‘Castle Course’ is also well worthy of a round if your Southwest Ireland itinerary allows.
Lahinch has been named as host of the 2026 Walker Cup, a coup considering this is only the third time the famed amateur event between the USA and GB&I will have been held in Ireland in over 100 years.
Lahinch – a small town on Liscannor Bay, on the northwest coast of County Clare. Lahinch is one of the best places to go surfing in Ireland thanks to its beautiful crescent-shaped beach and crystal clear waters. County Clare’s stunning terrain ranges from rolling countryside to craggy Atlantic coastline, with rocky wildernesses, stone age monuments, and ancient churches to explore.
Length: 6,950 yards
Designers: Old Tom Morris, Dr Alister MacKenzie, Dr Martin Hawtree
Moving further south on Ireland’s west coast to idyllic and unspoiled County Kerry, you’ll find one of the jewels in the Irish golf crown. Tralee, the beautiful coastal Arnold Palmer design comes highly recommended on a Premier Golf Ireland golf tour.
Beautiful estuary sands surround this small, natural outcrop of linksland, and despite the back 9 taking most of the plaudits for the scenery and more obvious natural drama, Tralee is known for engaging the golfer through each of the 18 holes.
Set in a quaint area of rural Ireland, an escape to Tralee offers a sense of the true, traditional Ireland.
Tralee – in County Kerry, southwestern Ireland. Tralee is famous for the annual Rose of Tralee International Festival and is home to one of the largest public urban parks in Ireland which covers 75 acres. It’s also the perfect base for exploring, with the coastal route for the Wild Atlantic Way and the gateway of the Dingle Peninsula located right on the doorstep.
Established: 1892 (current course 1984)
Length: 6,975 yards
Designer: Arnold Palmer
8. The European Club
When staying in the Republic of Ireland’s capital city of Dublin, there are a number of quality courses in close proximity, one of the most iconic and highly sought after is The European Club.
Famously offering 20 holes instead of 18, with 3 additional par 3’s totaling a par of 77, The European Club is known as one of the most pristine and immaculately kept tracks on the Island.
Undulations present ranging views from the Irish Sea, to Ireland’s lush countryside, and the mountainous hinterland, making for a scenic experience worthy of the immaculate and challenging course.
County Wicklow – also known as the ‘Garden of Ireland’. This stunning part of the country is abundant with spectacular, natural scenery and beautiful landscapes. Explore the incredible Wicklow Mountains (the highest in Ireland), the beautiful sandy beaches, the spectacular national park, and the dramatic waterfalls.
Length: 7,337 yards
Designer: Pat Ruddy
Last but not least, Portmarnock – not be confused with Portmarnok Links, another exceptional layout sharing the same stretch of coastline. This famous old course sits on a sandy tongue-shaped peninsula, presenting one of the most respected layouts in the world, and host of the Irish Open on no less than 19 occasions. Uniquely exposed to water on three sides, creating an influence from the winds and tide, if the initial 18 isn’t enough of this great course, there is a further 9, ‘the yellow’ available to satisfy the appetite.
The peninsula sits on the outskirts of Dublin, an easy transfer from the city, and possible to play on the day of arrival or departure from DUB.
Portmarnock – a small town in County Dublin sitting on a beautiful curve of coastline. Portmarnock is just a 15-minute drive from Dublin airport and within easy reach of Dublin itself. County Dublin is compact, so you can explore most of it in just a few days. Tour its historic houses and castles, beautiful landscapes, and quirky museums, and enjoy a friendly local welcome in its lively pubs and restaurants.
Length: 7,463 yards
Designer: William Pickeman
Hosted Irish Open: 19 times (1927-2003)
Booking Your Ireland Golfing Adventure
Planning is essential to get the most out of playing the best golf courses in Ireland. Be sure to schedule tee times well in advance, and secure lodging as near to the golf course as possible.
Or let Premier Golf do the planning for you! The most relaxing way to enjoy Ireland’s best courses is to book one of our four Ireland golf packages:
Ireland is extremely popular with golfers from around the globe. The country has almost 500 golf courses – including many world-class links golf courses. They are set in some of the most picturesque locations in the world, with the unusual terrain and spectacular scenery offering a unique golfing experience.
According to The R&A’s ‘Golf Around the World 2019’, there are 494 golf courses in Ireland. Scotland has 614, England has 2,270 courses, and Wales has 186.
Ireland’s oldest golf course is the Royal Curragh Golf Club in County Kildare. The course is located on the Curragh plains – the oldest and largest area of semi-natural grassland in the country.
Since 2001, the PGA Championship in Ireland has been played at Carne Golf Links in Belmullet. It was previously played at several different venues across Ireland. On the DP World Tour, the Irish Open was held at the K Club in 2023.
The majority of the golf courses in Ireland are called links due to their coastal locations, their natural, open, and sandy layouts, and the fact that they’re very often impacted by the wind.