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Opinion & Analysis

10 underrated golf courses in Scotland and Ireland

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Everyone wants to play golf in Scotland and Ireland. Fact. Maybe this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or perhaps an annual pilgrimage. The bucket lists will be overflowing with your old courses, whether that’s at Portmarnock or St. Andrews! The Open Championship courses will roll off your tongue, including Portrush, back on the rota, and rightly so. There will even be the must-plays that very few can play, unless well connected, financially sound, or both.

I can understand why the usual suspects are always on the golf itinerary. And, by writing this, I don’t want to question their appeal, or their quality. But my argument lies in that in this day and age of travel and tourism, it is all about going off the beaten track, exploring, living a little, and not conforming. Some may argue my selections aren’t off the beaten track enough, but they’re there to debate!

It is with a great deal of smugness that I present to you 10 golf courses (11 if you include two at Moray) I have experienced — five in each country — where you can be assured of as Scottish and Irish golf experience as you richly deserve.

Carne Golf Links

Carne Golf Links was the last links course designed by architect Eddie Hackett.

Protruding deep into the Atlantic on the west of Ireland is Carne Golf Links. The village of Belmullet lies almost exactly 3,000 miles from New York City, and Carne idly inhabits an area that is low on population, but highly populated with dunes. Sand dunes of the highest order! Now offering 27 holes, you will think you are driving to New York, but just before tipping off the edge of Europe, the dunes come into view. They are something to behold.

Castlegregory

There is the possibility that Castlegregory will be expanded one day, but for now it remains a 9-hole gem.

Traveling farther down the West Coast and driving beyond the practice greens of Ballybunion, Lahinch and Tralee is Castlegregory on the Dingle Peninsula. Surely I am not recommending a 9-holer? I will grant you access to one of the usual suspects in the morning, but following a couple pints of Guinness while watching the boats bob up and down off the Inch Peninsula, it seems appealing to play nine more, doesn’t it? Castlegregory gifts dramatic views across to Tralee, the steep-sided Mount Brandon as a backdrop and a challenge that simply not enough people know about. But, that’s its charm.

The Wild Atlantic Way, the world’s longest defined coastal route, should send you in the direction of the Ring of Kerry. A beautiful stretch of road and home to Waterville and Dooks, but perhaps controversially we will head cross-country to County Wicklow on the Irish Sea.

European Club

The European Club is one of the longest links at 7,377-yards from the tips.

Pat Ruddy designed The European Club. In fact, he is still designing the European Club. Heading out with his spray can, he will mark where bunkers need to be tweaked and changed before heading in again to talk to his golfers about Tiger’s course-record 67, how Padraig Harrington has his three majors thanks to the European and how Rory thinks it’s the best links he’s ever played. Oh yes, I forgot, you get 20 holes for your money and the world’s longest green.

Druids Glen

Druids Glen hosted the Irish Open from 1996 to 1999.

Not too far away and inland is Druids Glen. Sometimes referred to by the over-used phrase of the “Augusta of Europe,” they may be right. This is as close as I have come to what I imagine Augusta to be like. Spectacularly manicured, fascinatingly interesting, wonderfully unexpected and a lot of fun. Monty has won twice at Druids, while Sergio won his first tour event here. It goes to show it’s not just about how pretty the golf course looks; it’s tricky, too.

At the end of the 19th century, golf was steadily becoming more popular with the elite of the day. The Island Golf Club north of Dublin was originally a spur of land opposite Malahide. One fine day, a Syndicate of gents jumped in a boat and acquired the slice of land for their golf course. You could still get a boat to the course until 1973, with the clubhouse putting up colored disks to draw the attention of the boatman. Once on dry land, the dunes loom. It’s hard to tell just how big they are when you’re in Malahide, but after 18 holes and a couple pints of Guinness, trust me, they’re massive.

Hidden gems is a phrase too often used. Because a lot of the time, how you feel about a course is dependent on how you play and what type of courses you prefer to play. My challenge in Scotland is to demonstrate that no matter how low or high your handicap, or how close to it you play, you will still walk away appreciating what has just happened. This must be the reason we play? Personally, if I play poorly then I appreciate the view. If I play well I appreciate the scorecard, not forgetting the view. In Scotland, we will start by sauntering down the Edinburgh coast.

North Berwick Glen

North Berwick Glen was originally a nine-hole course when it opened in 1894 before being expanded to 18 holes in 1906.

The views of the Bass Rock extend out into the North Sea, while 150,000 gannets stare at you as you hover over the birdie putt. The ninth at The Glen Golf Club, North Berwick Glen drops to the seashore and has the rock as its aim. A visual treasure, and perched up high so susceptible to the odd breeze, it’s hard to concentrate on the swing when there is so much else to consider. The pretty town of North Berwick is a pleasant 5-minute stroll along the beach if you fancy a boat trip to see the birdies.

It’s not all about the sea and links, though, if you truly want to experience Scottish golf. The hills, the heathland, the contours and the gradients have helped assist the Queen’s at Gleneagles. Slightly over-shadowed by its bigger brothers of the King’s and the PGA Centenary (venue of the 2014 Ryder Cup), on a summer’s evening the views across the Ochils are worth the trip. Deer and rabbit will frolic in the rough, while the swans will serenely cruise on the loch at Nos. 13 and 14.

Royal Aberdeen

Royal Aberdeen Golf Club was granted its “Royal” designated in 1903 by King Edward VII.

Back on track, the Aberdeen coast has recently been synonymous with the arrival of the Trump International Golf Links. No matter what your political persuasion, it’s a marvellous golf course. But a little farther up the coast is Royal Aberdeen, the sixth-oldest golf club in the world. It was founded in 1780 as the Society of Golfers at Aberdeen. The front nine is arguably the best group of links holes anywhere on the planet, yet it might depend on how well you’re playing. Either way, the tradition, the atmosphere, the welcome and the clubhouse are reassuringly characterful.

Moray

The Old Course at Moray Golf Club has seven par-4s measuring at more than 400 yards.

The farthest north I will head is Moray. I know some of the purists will cite Dornoch as THE Scottish golf experience, but the 36 holes of the Old and New at Moray will once again offer pure Scottish golf. It’s important to play one “Old” on your trip, so Old Tom Morris’ Old can then be followed by Henry Cotton’s New. That’s not a bad combination. They won seven Opens between them, so they knew what they were doing.

Heading back down the road, the steam from the Highlands’ only steam railway will welcome you to Boat of Garten. Home to the ospreys and nestling by the River Spey, the course was designed by the legendary James Braid. The railway also runs alongside the fourth hole, so don’t forget to give the passengers a wave, not a fore. It is a beautifully untouched end to the tour. There is not much flat terrain to be had, but then you are in Scotland.

It’s without question that Scotland and Ireland offer the ultimate golf experience. But it’s important to explore beyond the brochure. Where Turnberry and Ballybunion are our Colosseum and Eiffel Tower, the plethora of courses will equally fulfill your romantic notions of Scottish and Irish golf. With a Guinness or whisky in hand, come rain or shine, your tour of golf heaven awaits.

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Born and bred in the home of the Beatles, Liverpool, sport has always been Graham’s number one pastime. Football (soccer!) and cricket were Graham's games of choice at school, but his dad always asked him to caddy. With the reward of a half a shandy and a packet of salt and vinegar, how could he refuse? But, it was the day after winning The Amateur Championship at Formby in 1984 that Jose-Maria Olazabal really got Graham hooked. Dragged along to watch Jose-Maria hit ball after ball after ball he fell in love with the game. Graham's job as a golf tour operator for seven years and seven years at wonderful Gleneagles have confirmed his love affair with the sport. He has been lucky to play some of the best golf courses in the world, but mainly in the UK and Ireland. Graham's favourite course is Muirfield, which is just down the road from his home in Scotland. His favourite club is the putter, now putting left-handed (yips right-handed). No hole in one! Never been hit by a ball, thank God. Shot shape tends to be left to right - exaggerated from time to time! But, most of all he loves the 'chat' and the exercise. Graham realises just how fortunate he is professionally, combining his love of golf and travel. He now promotes four of the best golf resorts in Europe, if not the World. So, if want to know about golf over there, give him a shout. Cheers me dears!

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Pingback: Golf Website Puts Castlegregory GC In List Of Ten Underrated Courses - traleetoday.ie

  2. golfraven

    Jul 7, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    I am still kicking myself that I have not played those courses in Ireland, living just an hours drive away … moron. Still played some good stuff there but not close to what is considered as excellent and those courses are.

  3. ND Hickman

    Jul 6, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    You want to play a few good courses in Scotland then you need to play Glasgow Gailes, Western Gailes and Dundonald. Three phenomenal links courses that are legitimately all a stones throw away from one another.

  4. Mike Mercer

    Jul 6, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    The hidden gem of a golf links that is Castlegregory nestles between the shores of Brandon Bay and Lough Gill. A challenging nine holes will leave visiting golfers in awe of its scenic beauty and variety of holes making it a test to players whether low or high handicap
    Well worth a visit on the Dingle Peninsula at Stradbally, Castlegregory, you won’t be disappointed.

  5. John Krug

    Jul 6, 2016 at 11:50 am

    I played Carne about 20 years ago. When I first saw it, I thought that I had landed on the moon. Great course.

  6. DaCrusher

    Jul 6, 2016 at 1:22 am

    Druids Glen is nowhere near the Augusta of Europe. Played it, disappointed.

    Some other mentions in Ireland: Ballyliffin and Old Head. Old Head probably doesn’t get the praise it should because it is a “young” course but IMO, it IS better than Pebble. I would pay $500 to play Old Head again but not Pebble.

    Agree with North Berwick. Great layout, unique holes, worth the stop. Elie Golf Links (mentioned above) is a true hidden gem surrounded by the oft hyped Kingsbarns and St Andrews (exclude the Old Course from that statement). Have recommended Elie to several peeps going over there.

  7. doubleipa

    Jul 5, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Played Carne last June with my 12 year old son. Course was AWESOME!!! Some of those dunes are so tall it feels like you’re playing golf in a hallway. I would play this course again in a heart-beat.

  8. Obee

    Jul 5, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    How about Dooks? And Elie? Played Dooks three summers ago when I visited the UK. Was going to play Elie, but got rained out. Dooks was fantastic and quite a bargain for such a wonderful course.

    • DaCrusher

      Jul 6, 2016 at 1:16 am

      Elie Golf Links awesome mention. A true hidden gem. Skip St Andrews (other than the Old Course) and go play this

  9. M Sizzle III

    Jul 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Graham,
    Your bio indicates you promote four golf resorts. In the interests of journalistic integrity, can we assume that none of them are mentioned in this article?
    Thanks,

    • Graham Hesketh

      Jul 5, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      Absolutely, M Sizzle III, the resorts I promote are not in the UK and Ireland. The courses I mention are just ones that I love, but I know there are plenty of other great ones.

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Opinion & Analysis

From the GolfWRX Vault: How far should you hit your golf clubs?

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Editor’s note: Jaacob Bowden‘s 2013 piece on how far a club “ought” to carry based on clubhead speed—i.e. how far you should hit your golf clubs–remains one of our most widely read pieces (thanks, Google search). And while seven years have passed since its publication, the data remains the same, and thus the piece remains just as relevant today. 

We’re happy to crack open the GolfWRX Vault for this excellent bit of writing. 


One of the nice things about having all this new fancy technological equipment like Trackman, Flightscope, ShotLink, etc., at various PGA Tour events is that distance data can be gathered for each of the players.

In case you haven’t come across it already, here are the approximate Trackman carry distance averages for men at the professional level.

Average PGA Tour Carry Distances (yards)

Club Carry
Driver (Total) 289
Driver (Carry) 269
3-Wood 243
5-Wood 230
Hybrid 225
3-Iron 212
4-Iron 203
5-Iron 194
6-Iron 183
7-Iron 172
8-Iron 160
9-Iron 148
PW 136

Pretty cool info. Perhaps they hit it farther than you might have thought…or maybe they hit less than you may have been lead to believe based on what you’ve seen on TV, read on the internet, etc.

Since I deal a lot with swing speed training and helping people in general hit the ball farther, a relatively common question I get is, “How far should I hit my clubs for my swing speed?”

Well, since we also know that the average driver swing speed on Tour typically runs around 112 to 113 mph, using a bit of algebra and the above distances we can approximate a guide for how far you could expect to hit the ball (assuming fairly consistent and solid contact) given your personal driver swing speed.

Here are those carry distances.

Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

 Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

I took the ranges down to 60 and 70 mph because those are swing speeds I’ll encounter when working with some amateur women and seniors. I also went up to 140 mph because numerous long drivers I’ve trained can get their drivers up that high (RE/MAX World Long Drive champions like Joe Miller, Jamie Sadlowski and Ryan Winther can actually reach over 150 mph).

Aside from using the chart as a general reference point, here are a few other things that I think are worth pointing out:

First, these numbers are based off how the average Tour player strikes the ball. Although Tour players are overall good ball strikers with all their clubs, most of them are actually not as efficient (the Tour average is about 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed) as they can be when it comes to distance with their drivers because on average they hit drives that launch too low and with too much spin.

LGPA Tour players (2.65 yards/mph of swing speed) and Professional Long Drivers are actually more distance efficient with their drivers…but that’s a topic for another article. The good news for you is that greater carry and total-driving distances can be achieved at all the range of swing speeds shown above if you are a more efficient driver than the average male tour player at 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed.

With a 2-degree change in driver loft and some minor adjustments made to his swing path, angle of attack, etc, one of my amateur students went from being an already above-average efficient driver at 2.61 yards/mph to an extremely efficient one at 2.75 yards/mph. So with no change to his 102 mph swing speed, he increased his driving distance average from 266 to 280. Then after some swing speed training, he got up to 112 mph and can now hit drives around 307 yards with that same efficiency of 2.75 yards/mph. That’s 41 more yards!

Second, the club distances are based on the driver swing speeds that you would get from a system like FlightScope and Trackman. So if at all possible, get yourself checked on one of those. Otherwise, if you measure with something like a Speed Stik (which measure higher in my experience), you could get a false sense of how far you might expect to hit the ball.

As another example, Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radars (SSR) also read faster. It should be pointed out that SSRs are still a great personal training aid, and because of their accuracy and relative affordability and portability, they are actually the radar I recommend in my swing speed training programs.

However, the Doppler radar in an SSR measures the fastest moving part of the club head (typically the toe) versus a Trackman or FlightScope, which each have proprietary algorithms to calculate the speed at the center of the club face. For this reason, SSRs will read about 5 to 12 percent faster, depending on how you as an individual move the driver through impact. If you have an SSR, just hit 5 to 10 balls with it and a Trackman or FlightScope at the same time and you’ll find out your personal difference for sake of comparison.

Third, the above numbers can be useful for a good general reference, but like I mentioned in my article about understand distance variance, recognize that carry distances can vary a lot depending on conditions. Slopes, wind, temperature, altitude, etc., are all things that can affect how far the ball flies, so remember to factor that in.

Fourth, keep in mind potential loft differences between your clubs and the ones here. As a general rule of thumb, club manufacturers have made their club lofts (especially in the irons) continually stronger over the years as a way of marketing and selling consumers the new clubs.

Many top Tour players are being paid to play the latest clubs, which could mean they might also be playing irons with stronger lofts than the set you are playing. This isn’t always the case, however, but it’s another thing to be aware of.

Last, once you start approaching less than 80 mph with the driver, notice how the distances start bunching up between clubs.  At this point, you start getting to an area where you really don’t need a full set of 14 clubs. If this is you, perhaps you might also find that you hit a 3-wood or 5-wood further than a normal driver.

My wife is very strong and athletic, however, as a beginner who doesn’t play or practice very much, she hasn’t developed much swing speed. For that reason, we got her fitted for a 9-club set of Wishon 730CLs, a set that is designed specifically for men and women with less than 80 mph of club head speed.

The shafts are very light, the driver is 16 degrees and only 42 inches, the fairway woods are 20 and 26 degrees (versus the commonly used 15- and 19-degree fairway woods), and the remaining hybrids/irons are gapped out in 6-degree loft increments (compared to the normal 3- or 4-degree). Also, since many beginners, lesser skilled players and those with slower swing speeds can struggle with really high lofted wedges, the highest lofted wedge in the set is 54 degrees.

All of these things combine to provide a driver that can actually be hit in the air for distance, clubs that have substantial distance gapping, plus it’s just less clubs in general to lug around and choose from.

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Opinion & Analysis

Barney Adams: Why we play golf

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I played golf the other day with friends. COVID-19 restrictions, but we got out. They will attest that I stunk, but that isn’t news or the basis for this piece.

Normally that kind of golfing experience has me in borderline depression searching for a swing change that I know will allow me to play at my fantasy level. What was remarkably different was the pleasure. Being outside, sunshine, fresh air, joking with friends, enduring the glares from my partner. It was four hours that were singular in their positivity made more so by the daily media barrage of doom and being essentially quarantined for all other activities.

To start, one of the great things about golf is when you play, it requires total concentration—world events, personal issues are put on hold. You see, golf isn’t fun, it’s hard and that element is what brings us joy no matter how small our victories.

I’ve played the game for some 70 years and studied it for 40, working in the industry. One of my favorite exercises over the years has been to ask someone who played recently to describe their best shot of their previous round. Immediate answers flow accompanied by a smile or whimsical expression. Whether it’s a tee shot, a chip, putt, it’s a moment of slaying the dragon. And this is golf. Not an 18 or even 9-hole score—one shot, immediate recall and the reason to play again.

We find ourselves today bordering on panic—daily feeds from the media, warning us, frightening us. For those who play the game, it is a needed respite. There have been some articles, and I’m sure more coming, about what will happen in the distant morning. Massive unemployment, lost wages, and crashing investment portfolios, a small sample. Sadly, the media is going to have bad news to emphasize for months to come and there is no question that some of the collateral damage will be human lives and financial well-being.

It’s easy to sit and critique humans making decisions. But when asked the question about affecting lives now or in the future, it’s way more complex. Political expediency focuses on the now knowing there will be a pivot down the road.

What does all this have to do with golf? The game provides an instant middle ground. People can have four hours in the sun and fresh air and the difficulty involved forces them to temporarily shelve daily tribulations. Even with reduced course services as a precaution, just the chance to go to bed at night knowing the weather looks great and you can escape to the course for a few hours…it’s something that brightens one’s outlook.

So, I’m championing the playing of golf, while accepting various related restrictions. I’m championing a few hours where we can forget the drama, the panic, and get our butts kicked by a little white ball. And when done, we’ll make arrangements to play again.

Oh yes, now that the internet is overflowing with tips from golf teaching experts, I really need to play, because I have this new move that is guaranteed, guaranteed, to produce 12 more yards off the tee. You see, it all has to do with the position of the shaft vs. the left knee and…

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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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