Planting your peg on the first tee of a great new course is like waking up on Christmas morning. You may have some idea about the gifts that await, but the surprise is half the fun. As each hole unfolds, it’s akin to unwrapping one present at a time. Each hole, and course, is different, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. As the calendar year comes to a close, GOLF.com will unveil its best of the best when it comes to new courses of 2018. Check the December 2018 issue of GOLF magazine for the full lineup.
On the tee: The best new international course of the year
Hogs Head Golf Club
Waterville, Co. Kerry, Ireland
7,140 Yards, Par 72
The first Robert Trent Jones II design in Ireland is much like RTJ Jr. himself: whimsical and remarkable. Hogs Head occupies a site that once housed Skellig Bay, a golf course built in 2006 that failed financially. Jones kept five hole corridors—but none of the features—and developed 13 others, qualifying this as a new course. What emerged is Chambers Bay lite. Hogs Head is a headlands course, not an authentic links among sand and dunes. Instead, it’s set atop 100-foot bluffs over the Atlantic Ocean.
However, the course is sandcapped, yielding firm and fast conditions, and is carpeted in fescue from tee to green, so it plays like a links, complete with wind and water views. As with Chambers Bay, it offers many open entrances to greens, so players can choose running shots or an aerial attack, depending on preference and conditions. On different holes Jones invokes MacKenzie at Augusta, A.W. Tillinghast at Winged Foot and H.S. Colt at Royal Portrush, but they’re homages, not replicas.
Most memorable is the par-3 13th, which has two separate greens, one of which hugs the ocean. It’s not a gimmick—since the oceanside green is susceptible to salt- spray damage in high winds, it’s taken out of play at times, usually in winter. Other standouts are the cliff-edge, 425- yard, par-4 12th; a double green at the 570-yard, par-5 14th; and the dramatically rolling Biarritz green at the par-5 sixth. Toss in front-nine holes that hopscotch the swift-rushing, salmon-filled Finglas River and you have an Irish layout of unparalleled variety. Hogs Head definitely lives up to its club motto: “Built by friends, for friends, for fun.”