Golfweek’s Best Courses of Great Britain & Ireland
The Home of Golf is well-represented on our inaugural Golfweek’s Best lists of the top Classic and Modern golf courses of Great Britain and Ireland. However, Scotland’s most recognizable course – St. Andrews’ Old Course – isn’t at the top. It’s No. 2.
Top honors for our debut lists go to Royal County Down in Northern Ireland on the Classic (pre-1960) and Kingsbarns in Scotland for the Modern era (1960 and later). The roster includes the top-40 Classic and top-40 Modern layouts in England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The distinctive feature of the Classic list is the vintage of so many courses.
The oldest, St. Andrews’ Old Course, dates to the 15th century. England’s oldest course, Royal North Devon’s Westward Ho!, which opened in 1864, is ranked No. 34. Twenty of the top 21 courses on the list predate 1900. The only post-World War II layout is western Scotland’s Turnberry Ailsa, ranked No. 6 thanks to a sparkling routing by Mackenzie Ross that assumed its present form in 1949.
On a country-by-country basis, England leads the Classic list with 19, followed by Scotland (13), Ireland (5), Northern Ireland (2) and Wales (1). Old Tom Morris leads with 10 design credits, followed by Harry S. Colt (8) and James Braid (7).
The two leading Modern courses on the GB&I list both owe their inception to U.S. developer Mark Parsinen. Having successfully worked with architect Kyle Phillips on Kingsbarns a decade ago on the Fife Coast, just south of St. Andrews, he now has made his mark east of Inverness with Castle Stuart (ranked No. 2), which he co-designed with Gil Hanse.
In addition to these two links-inspired courses, the Modern list includes three inland venues on the Ryder Cup slate: Celtic Manor’s Twenty Ten course in Wales (No. 19), site of this October’s competition; and The K Club’s Palmer course in Ireland (No. 35), which played host to the 2006 matches and Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary course in Scotland (No. 38), which will host the Ryder Cup in 2014.
When it comes to modern-course development, Ireland claims 17 on the post-1960 list, trailed by Scotland (15), England (7) and Wales (1). The leaders in course credits are Eddie Hackett and former Irish golf writer Pat Ruddy, with four each. Arnold Palmer, Kyle Phillips and Donald Steel have three apiece.
In developing these parallel Golfweek’s Best lists, we followed our standard methodology, with our team of raters judging courses on the basis of 10 detailed architectural criteria ranging from routing and overall land plan to the quality of greens and surrounds and the overall ambience of the course as “a walk in the park.”