The Best Courses in Ireland

1 of 12 No. 4 / Evan Schiller
Old Head Golf Links, Kinsale, Co. Cork: Some contend that Old Head is the most spectacular course in the world. What’s undeniable is that this 16-year-old cliff top layout is jaw-dropping from start to finish. Holes on each nine drape 300-foot-high cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean and backdrops include castle ruins, a lighthouse and the spot in the sea where the Lusitania went down. ($187-$388; 011 353 21 4778 444, oldhead.com)
2 of 12 No. 12 / David Cannon, Getty Images
Royal County Down, Newcastle, Co. Down: No course so perfectly combines beauty and brawn as Royal County Down, Golf Magazine’s sixth-ranked course in the world. The venue for the 2015 Irish Open is an 1889 Old Tom Morris design that was reworked by H.S. Colt in 1926. The unforgettable par-3 4th and par-4 9th, the latter with its blind drive, feature prickly yellow gorse, bewhiskered bunkers and views of the mountains and sea. ($83-$307; 011 44 28 4372 3314, royalcountydown.org)
3 of 12 No. 11 / David Cannon, Getty Images
Royal Portrush (Dunluce), Co. Antrim: The only Irish course ever to host the Open Championship, in 1951, this World Top 15 layout dates to 1888. The present links is a 1929 H.S. Colt creation that climbs into the dunes and features one of the greatest holes in golf, the 210-yard, par-3 14th, aptly named “Calamity.” Amid winds whipping off the Irish Sea, a slice or fade off the tee will plunge into a 75-foot-deep chasm short and right of the hole. ($100-$291; 011 44 28 7082 2311, royalportrushgolfclub.com)
4 of 12 No. 17 / Aidan Bradley
Carne Golf Links, Carne, Belmullet, Co. Mayo: Minimalist Irish architect Eddie Hackett and Mother Nature paired in 1993 to create 18 dramatic holes in westernmost Ireland that deliver striking ocean views, bucking-bronco terrain and elevated greens jabbed into giant sand hills. Twenty years later, the club added an equally stunning third nine, called Kilmore. For those with sturdy legs, this is the Emerald Isle’s best value. ($49-$97; 011 353 978 2292, carnegolflinks.com)
5 of 12 No. 11 / Larry Lambrecht
Ballybunion (Old), Ballybunion, Co. Kerry: “Nothing less than the finest seaside course I have ever seen,” pronounced Hall of Fame writer Herbert Warren Wind. Echoed five-time Open champion Tom Watson, “It is one of the best and most beautiful tests of links golf anywhere in the world.” With the dunes, beach and sea all in sight and in play, it’s easy to understand why Wind and Watson were so wowed. ($132-$249; 011 353 68 27146, ballybuniongolfclub.ie)
6 of 12 No. 17 / David Cannon, Getty Images
Tralee, Ardfort, Co. Kerry: “I have never seen a more perfect place to build a golf course,” said Arnold Palmer of Tralee, his first design foray into Europe in 1984. “I may have designed the first nine, but god designed the back nine.” Regardless of whom takes design credit, the course dishes out broken ground and heavenly vistas in equal measure. ($76-$242; 011 353 66 713 6379,
7 of 12 No. 9 / David Cannon, Getty Images
Trump International Golf Links Ireland, Doonbeg, Co. Clare: New owner Donald Trump has grand plans for this course, but he’s got an awfully strong foundation from which to start. Greg Norman sculpted Doonbeg from massive sandhills at the ocean’s edge. The par-4 6th, high above the beach and the tiny par-3 14th that practically melts into the Atlantic are highlights. ($83-$242; 011 353 65 905 5600, doonbeglodge.com)
8 of 12 No. 8 / Courtesy of The European Club
The European Club, Brittas Bay, Co. Wicklow: Johnny Miller once stated that he’d “love to see the British Open played here.” For years, Padraig Harrington tuned up his pre-Open links game here -- and twice won Opens a week later. From the tips, it’s a rugged test for sure, but the aesthetics match the challenge, thanks to holes that twist through amphitheaters of giant dunes and others that edge the Irish Sea. ($139-$249; 011 353 404 47415, theeuropeanclub.com)
9 of 12 No. 17 / Evan Schiller
Waterville Golf Links, Waterville, Co. Kerry: Sam Senad called Waterville a “magnificent monster.” Raymond Floyd had a softer assessment, stating that Waterville is “one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.” They’re both right. Its slithering par-5 11th, hemmed in by dune ridges and its seaside par-3 17th, with a back tee and green isolated by dense vegetation and backdropped by MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, are two world-class stunners. ($83-$236; 011 353 66 947 4102, watervillegolflinks.ie)
10 of 12 No. 18 / Larry Lambrecht
Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, Killarney, Co. Kerry: Legendary British writer and broadcaster Henry Longhurst uttered of Killarney, “What a lovely place to die.” Longhurst wasn’t being morbid, just truthful. Killarney’s Killeen and Mahony’s Point are two of the world’s most beautiful and tranquil inland courses, amid mountains, forests, brilliant rhododendrons and the gorgeous shores and inlets of Lough Leane. ($49-$139; 011 353 64 663 1034, killarney-golf.com)
11 of 12 No. 8 / David Cannon, Getty Images
Lahinch Golf Club, Lahinch, Co. Clare: Ranked No. 40 in our Top 100 Courses in the World, Lahinch is known as the “St. Andrews of Ireland,” not only because the town and golf course are so seamlessly integrated, but because its two principal designers were so importantly connected to St. Andrews, Old Tom Morris (1893) and Alister MacKenzie (1927). The famous goats, the sea and two of golf’s greatest blind holes, the par-5 3rd (“Klondyke”) and the par-3 4th (“Dell”) elevate Lahinch. ($69-$208; 011 353 708 1003, lahinchgolf.com)
12 of 12 Faldo Course / Courtesy of Lough Erne Resort
Lough Erne Resort, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh: Much of Lough Erne’s early fame stemmed from its association with its young (and successful) touring professional Rory McIlroy, but today, this five-year-old Nick Faldo design can stand on its own merits. As well it should, thanks to a rugged, gorgeous, parkland design that juts out into its namesake lake and lodging that was good enough to host the 2013 G8 Summit. ($69-$132; 011 44 286 634 5766 lougherneresort.com)