There is a lot of snow on the ground this week and I have some time on my hands, so here is a somewhat arbitrary compilation of the best and worst values in links golf.
World, GB&I and individual country rankings are all from one of my favorite websites, http://www.top100golfcourses.co.uk/. To qualify as a links course, the courses must be identified as such in George Peper’s great book, True Links. All green fess were converted to $US using the website http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/#.
Links Courses Rated in the Top 100 Courses in the World
There are two overwhelming winners here. Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm (Tasmania, Australia) cost between $72 and $79 dollars to play and rank 28th and 37th respectively in the world. You have to go a long way to play these outstanding links, but once you get there they are a true bargain! The only downside for me is that these are resort courses. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that links golf “feels” better to me when played at a real golf club with an active local membership.
Runners up include Lahinch, Royal Dornoch, and North Berwick. I’ve been fortunate to play all three of these courses and they are all worth the trip. Lahinch is only $130 a round if you play two rounds within seven days. North Berwick, an in-town course like St. Andrews is a mere $145. Royal Dornoch and the Scottish Highland should be on every golfer’s bucket list and, considering it’s ranked 12th in the world, it’s a good deal at $183. These are all courses that have an active local membership and are welcoming to visitors.
Because there are so many great courses in this list, I will add some honorable mentions. The European Club is Pat Ruddy’s masterpiece in beautiful County Wicklow south of Dublin. This is a big venue and a difficult course, especially when the wind is blowing. But the warm welcome from the Ruddy family and the spectacularly beautiful links make it one of my all-time favorites. We played rounds on Monday and Tuesday morning in August and practically had the course to ourselves. The per-round price of $142 (must play two rounds in seven days) is a steal. Next up is Ballybunion is County Kerry Ireland. While a bit pricey at $209 a round, it’s high world ranking (21) makes it a pretty good deal. Another County Kerry course, Waterville ($170) deserves a mention as does Cruden Bay ($154) on the Aberdeenshire coast in Scotland. Though few Americans have heard of it, Noordwijkse (southwest of Amsterdam) is ranked 89th in the world and can be played for $143.
Courses in the middle of the value range here are worth noting- The Old Course at St. Andrews ($259), Royal Portrush Dunluce ($244), Royal County Down ($267) and Royal St. George’s ($259). All are in the top 20 in the world, two are on the Open rota, and all are well under $300.
The two clear “losers” in this category are both owned by Trump International. They are not losers as golf courses, quite the contrary. Turnberry Alisa is an iconic “must-play” course for many and the Trump International Golf Links near Aberdeen course, while unlikely to live up to it’s own boasting as the best golf course in the world, has received many rave reviews. Yet at $384 and $331, respectively, they are the worst value in this category.
Links Courses Rated in the Top 100 GB&I
Things get very interesting as we move to courses that rank in the top 100 of Great Britain and Ireland, but fall short of the world’s top 100.
The winners in this category are Machrihanish ($99), Royal West Norfolk ($92), Carne ($79) and Saunton East ($107). All received better than a 5 ball rating on top100golfcourses website and all are very reasonably priced. Even though Saunton East cost more than $100, it made the cut because of it’s GB&I ranking of 35. The only course ranked better in this category is Prestwick ($164) at #34.
The only course among the winners I have played happens to be my favorite course in the world- Carne. Set in the remote western end of County Mayo Ireland, Carne has recently added a new 9 holes to complement the original 18 designed by the late Eddie Hackett. You will see Carne talked about a lot on linkswanderer because I am an overseas member.
Machrihanish makes many world top 100 lists and if played along with Machrie ($99) on the “whiskey isle” of Islay would make for a wonderful golf trip that is on my short list for sure.
The four runner-ups in this category are even better deals but didn’t make the winners because they are only ranked as 5 ball courses. This is still an excellent ranking and you might like them even better than the winners. They are Silloth on Solway ($75), Royal St. David’s ($85), Rosapenna Sandy Hills ($79) and Aberdovey ($76).
I played Pat Ruddy’s Sandy Hills course at Rosapenna a few years ago and loved it. It is a difficult course, however. But Rosapenna also has the Old Tom Morris course which is a very nice 5-ball course for the same price. This part of Ireland probably has the best deals in all of GB&I for great links golf. Royal St. David’s and Aberdovey would make a very nice combination if you ever have the opportunity to head west into Wales. Aberdovey is the home course of the great golf writer Bernard Darwin and Royal St. David’s sits by the beautiful small village of Harlech. Silloth on Solway is proof that many of the best links deals are found in relatively remote locations. But you are close here to the famous Lake District and also to Southerness, a fine links course in far southwest Scotland. If you drive from Manchester to Silloth, you also can play the likes of Royal Lytham & St. Annes ($275) and Royal Birkdale ($298) on the way!
The losers in this category are those that cost more than $190 to play. They include Formby ($191), Rye ($192), Royal Cinque Ports ($198) and Western Gailes ($206). These are all fine courses, just too expensive.
The rest of the courses in this category include lots of really great courses that are a good value. A few examples include Enniscrone ($102), Ballyliffin Glasheedy & Old ($113), Prestwick ($164), County Louth ($136) and St. Enodoc ($115).
Links Courses Rated in the Top 100 Country Lists
This last list includes courses that aren’t in the world top 100 or GB&I top 100, but they are in the top 100 courses for Scotland, England, Wales, or Ireland.
The only bad values here are Murcar ($154) and Southport & Ainsdale ($161). To price your courses above $150 when you aren’t ranked in GB&I suggests you don’t care about receiving visitors. These are private clubs, so that is their prerogative. But I don’t see much reason for paying these prices to play them unless you happen to be in the area for other reasons.
On the other hand, there are lots of very good links tracts here that are a bargain. For example, you can play the following courses for under $75: Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links, Dingle Golf Club, Laytown & Bettystown, Strandhill, Rosslare, Portsalon, Perranporth, Seapoint, Ashburnham, Portrush Valley, Connemara, Brora, and Gullane #2. Of these courses, I have played Brora, Connemara and Portsalon. Portsalon is a lovely, peaceful course and seldom crowded. Brora was a favorite when I took a group to Scotland to play. We played Dornoch twice, but Brora three times because of the friendly members and old-fashioned (in a good way) links where sheep and cattle graze on the course and people walk their dogs across the course to the beach.
The charts below lists all of the “true links” that can be found in the top 100 courses of the world, the top 100 courses in GB&I and the top 100 courses in the individual countries of Ireland and Great Britain. On the left is a score (lower is better) that adds the ranking number to the daily green fee for that course. And determines the best and worst values. I used summer green fees but occasionally used special offers when they were easy to get- for example two rounds within a seven day period. The “Country Top 100 rankings are ranked only by price.
Best and Worst Links Course Values
Score (Lower is better) Course Ranking Price ($US)
World Top 100
107 Barnbougle Dunes 28 $109
116 Barnbougle Lost Farm 37 $109
165 Lahinch 35 $130*
195 Royal Dornoch 12 $183
196 North Berwick 51 $145
225 European Club 83 $142*
225 Ballybunion 21 $204
231 Waterville 61 $170
232 Noordwijkse 89 $143
245 Cruden Bay 91 $154
253 Portmarnock 44 $209
259 Royal Portrush Dunluce 15 $244
263 St. Andrews Old Course 4 $259
270 Royal County Down 3 $267
277 Royal Porthcrawl 86 $191
278 Royal St. George’s 19 $259
294 Royal Troon 63 $231
299 Kingsbarns 40 $259*
324 Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s 49 $275
326 Pacific Dunes 16 $310
327 Royal Birkdale 29 $298
331 Muirfield 9 $322
354 Royal Liverpool 85 $269
355 Castle Stuart 65 $290
369 Bandon Dunes Bandon Dunes 59 $310
382 Bandon Dunes Old MacDonald 72 $310
402 Trump Turnberry Alisa 18 $384
424 Trump International Aberdeen 93 $331
GB&I Top 100 (5+ ball rating)
136 Machrihanish 37 $99
137 Royal W. Norfolk 45 $92
141 Carne 62 $79
142 Saunton East 35 $107
162 Enniscrone 60 $102
168 Ballyliffin Glasheedy 55 $113
172 Machrie 99 $99
182 Tralee 46 $136
190 County Louth 54 $136
198 Prestwick 34 $164*
211 The Island 58 $153
213 Ballyliffin Old 100 $113
218 Hillside 42 $176
234 Fomby 43 $191
239 Royal Cinque Ports 41 $198
242 Western Gailes 36 $206
GB&I top 100 (5 ball rating)
132 Silloth on Solway 57 $75
134 Royal St. David’s 49 $85
138 Rosapenna Sandy Hills 59 $79
140 Aberdovey 64 $76
152 Pennard 75 $77
153 St. Enodoc 38 $115
173 Donegal 93 $80
191 County Sligo 50 $141
194 Machrihanish Dunes 79 $115
213 Nairn 44 $169
217 Portstewart 92 $125
219 Gullane #1 68 $151
227 Doonbeg 63 $165
248 Rye 56 $192
Country Top 100 (5+ ball rating)
Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links $51
Country Top 100 (5 ball rating)
Laystown & Bettystown $34
Portrush Valley $65
Connemara Championship Links $68
Gullane #2 $75
Rosapenna Old Tom Morris $79
Narin & Portnoo $90
Glasgow Gailes $92
Prestwick St. Nicholas $100
Saunton West $107
Lundin Links $123
Moray Old $123
Southport & Ainsdale $161