Best golf courses in North West Ireland
A region renowned for natural beauty, golfing heritage and world-class links, check out which courses we love the most!
With 1,500 miles of coastline, it's obvious why Ireland’s North West is blessed with such superb links courses… and yet they remain slightly hidden.
Here are ten of the best courses that stretch from Co. Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula along the Wild Atlantic Way as far as Connemara in Co. Galway. Being one of the more remote areas of the Emerald Isle, the region is blessed by raw and natural beauty as well as golf of the highest order.
There are 27 holes on this northwestern tip of Co. Mayo… all links… all brilliant. This is quite probably the biggest dunescape on the planet, with the dunes rising almost 500 feet above sea level in a random explosion of sandhills. It ripples with muscle, intrigue and entertainment, with tees and greens perched up high or sitting low at the foot of giant dunes. The original 18 holes were designed by the legendary Irish architect, Eddie Hackett, and opened for play in 1995.
Hackett’s genius was to let the natural landscape dictate the design and, at Carne, that means some truly breath-taking holes. In 2013, a further nine holes (the Kilmore nine) were opened, following the design work of Al McIntosh.
Enniscrone is a big dune country, tucked up close to Killala Bay and a beach that stretches for miles. The fairways reflect the rhythm of the shaggy dunes, presenting some major swells as they see-saw towards the greens. Although hypnotic in places, Enniscrone is as tough as it is thrilling, with several blind shots and plateau greens promising constant challenges. You’ll need a deft touch both around the greens and on the pristine putting surfaces themselves.
Not only is it breath-taking, but also a formidable challenge measuring over 7000 yards and a par-73 off the tips. Consistently ranked amongst Ireland’s top 15 courses and top 70 in the British Isles. You’ll encounter unbelievable holes (2, 12 and 13 most notably) and the stretch from 12 to 17 is utterly captivating.
This timeless Harry Colt classic sits a few miles outside Sligo town. The views over Drumcliff and Sligo bays, and the distant mountains are mesmerizing, but it is the flat-topped Benbulbin that looms largest and is visible for most of the round.
There are 27 holes at County Sligo with the main course called ‘The Colt’ and shorter nine ‘the Bomore’, with the Colt Championship Links being one of the most scenic courses in Ireland. As a golf course, it has it all with dramatic undulations, raised plateau greens, run-offs, challenging bunkering, burns and dunes. At over 7200 yards off the tips, it is a formidable challenge that offers great variety, with holes 11 to 17 out on the headland and truly magnificent.
For many golfers, Narin & Portnoo is Ireland’s undiscovered links. It is rarely talked about and much of that comes down to its remoteness, which is a crying shame because this is one unforgettable links, wrapped around a ridge of tall dunes which lies at the heart of the course.
No other course in Ireland gets you as close to the ocean as Narin & Portnoo. Stand on the 9th tee and you can dip your toe in the Atlantic. Stand on the 8th tee and there is no more beautiful place in Ireland. This is fresh and inspiring, raw and beautiful.
The stretch of holes from 6 to 11 is mesmerizing. It may well be the best stretch of holes in Ireland.
Located at the edge of Sheephaven Bay in the very north of Ireland, the Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort looks out at the stunning Downings Beach, providing spectacular views of the beautiful coastline and Irish Sea. There are two fantastic links courses onsite, with the 1893 Old Tom Morris Links and the 2003 Sandy Hills Links showcasing the old with the new.
Sandy Hills was laid out through the biggest dunes by Pat Ruddy, in 2004. It is quite probably the toughest course in Ireland, thanks to dense rough which crowds the tossing fairways and unforgiving green complexes. Add in the wind and it is not for the faint-hearted.
That said, this is a rhythmic links where fairways slide down into and through dune valleys. Golfers will enjoy many high tees and high greens, which show off the beauty of the holes and the landscape.
Ranking amongst Ireland's top 20 courses, The Old Links at Ballyliffin Golf Club opened for play in 1973 and is as traditional as links golf gets, where the perfect drive will often find an awkward lie. The fairways roll through wild dunes overlooking Pollan Beach and the North Atlantic beyond.
An Eddie Hackett design measuring just under 7000 yards off the tips, the Old received some attention from Faldo’s design team in 2004, which was triggered in 1993 by a visit from the then world number one golfer, who commented ‘this is one of the most natural links courses I have ever played’.
Ranked amongst Ireland’s top 10 courses and having played host to the European Tour’s 2018 Irish Open, the Glashedy owes a lot to Ruddy and the experience he drew upon from his other links masterpiece at The European.
The name ‘Glashedy’ is named after the big Rock that sits out in the Atlantic in full view from the courses and is Ballyliffin’s equivalent of Turnberry’s Ailsa Craig.
The natural links is cast in a bucolic Irish setting of mountains, beach and sea. Golfers will be asked to drive across that beach on the 2nd hole, which is one of the best holes in the country. It is both long and dangerous, doglegging sharply around both the beach and a river.
The opening seven holes rumble through strong, swinging dunes above the beach. The back nine slip inland but, if anything, fairways and holes become more shapely and show off more of the views.
Portsalon Golf Club
Donegal Golf Club begins with a long, straight drive through the forest, heading out onto the Murvagh Peninsula, where the only resident is this great links. The surrounding hills, ocean and Blue Stack Mountains give the course a sense of serenity. But don’t be fooled as once upon a time, this links was the longest in Europe (7,398 yards), so choose the correct tee.
This is an open, spacious terrain covered in low snaking dunes, growing bigger as they approach Donegal Bay. Next to the beach, you will discover Donegal’s most thrilling holes, where the dunes wreak havoc on fairways and around greens. The par three 5th is where it kicks off: named Valley of Tears, it’s a highly appropriate name for a hole that has delivered plenty of heartache.
The links at Strandhill rarely gets the kudos it deserves, sitting in the shadow of Co. Sligo Golf Club across the bay. It doesn’t have a renowned designer name – much of it was designed by the members in the 1970s – and with a par of 70, it’s not ‘long’ enough to draw the touring golf crowds.
Yet Strandhill has so much going for it. The sea squeezes in on two sides and holes are routed over intriguing, ever-changing terrain. Strandhill leans on the quirky rather than the classic, which works in its favour because the 5th, 6th, 13th and 15th are hugely fun holes. All-day long you will be faced with unpredictable fairways, some severely undulating, natural greens and glorious scenery.
If you ask anyone who has visited and played golf in Ireland’s North West, it will be right up there as one of their all-time favourite golf destinations. Rugged and beautifully raw landscapes define this region as well as links golf to die for and genuine heartfelt Irish hospitality. It’s truly unmissable.
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Senior Golf Vacation Specialist - UK & Ireland
Senior Golf Vacation Specialist, I help golfers find their ideal golfing getaway