Top #10 Courses I’ve Played!

Top #10 Courses I’ve Played!

 Augusta National - the daddy of all golf courses - did it live up to its hype? Sure did and then some. From the moment you walk, (no car ride for me!) up Magnolia Lane to standing on the iconic 12th tee with the breeze swirling, it's a roller coaster ride that lasts but a fleeting second. One of the few times I have ever hyperventilated in my life, the extremely long and hilly course is everything you could dream of in a golf course. My number one course, without a doubt.

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Most memorable hole?

The par three 12th hole. We played on the Tuesday after the Masters, not a sinner in sight, the place was eerily quiet with the giant scoreboards still in place. Thought of Fred Couples on my downswing, (ball staying up on the front bank,) barely got my nine iron on to the green, rock-solid par!

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Abiding Memory

The greens, had to be, hadn't it? I was brought up on greens that were on the side of a mountain, but these greens were, quick, if you got on the wrong side of the hole. I found them fine (I had a good caddie) and recorded 33 putts for the day. Two instances stick out, I was told I couldn't two-putt the second because I was in the wrong place, I duly took my medicine and putted away from the hole, and I hit a terrific second shot into the 14th green and was walking up to the green when the ball passed me going back down the fairway. They were that quick!

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Fun Fact

On the par four, 11th tee, I hit a long, straight drive, (off the member's tee, you are not allowed off the pro tees,) and was left with a short wedge to the green. Couldn't understand what all the fuss was about how tough the 11th was, so decided to walk back to the Pro tee. 104 yards later, we got there, and to say it was a tight tee shot would be an understatement. Augusta National is one tough golf course, but without a doubt the most fun you could have on a Tuesday afternoon!  

 Carnoustie - What is there to say about one of the hardest golf courses on planet Earth? From the opening tee shot to finally clearing the burn on the last, it's like fighting Mike Tyson, in his prime. I have been lucky enough to have played it many times, and it never disappoints. How to get beaten up on a golf course and enjoy it!

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Most memorable hole?

The last four to be honest, just in case you were having some sort of good day on the links. The greens are very fair, quite flat if anything but then Carnoustie is not like a normal links that can be taken advantage of on a flat calm day. Four monster holes to finish a course that you will never forget. 

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Abiding Memory

The rickety steel fencing that borders the course, you don't have to be far offline for your prized Pro V1 to skip through the fence into the waiting arms of some oul' codger, wearing a flat cap and smoking a roll-up. Throw in Shep the sheepdog and you have the scene set for you. My second abiding memory of Carnoustie would be the scene of my brother, Padraig's, greatest ever shot, his pitch into the 18th green in the final round during regulation play. Life is a lot like that, up and down and 3 Majors in 13 months. Fail to get up and down and... well who knows? 

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Fun Fact

I got to know the greenkeeping staff and one year we played around October time, early in the morning. On our way in for lunch, one greenkeeper remarked that they were away for the afternoon and the course was unusually quiet. It would be a good time to play it off the tips. Forget lunch, back out and played off the plates. I still remember every shot as if it were yesterday. 

 Waterville - my favorite golf course in Ireland. I started playing there over 30 years ago and the general manager, Noel Cronin, is still part of the furniture. You will not find a better greeting or be made more welcome anywhere in the world of golf. The course underwent a revamp under the watchful eye of Tom Fazio and has remained faithful to the original design bar two holes which were reversed. The original 6th and 7th aptly named "Highway to Heaven" swapped pars and a new par three was built behind the 5th green. Some coastal erosion has also changed the original 16th hole which used to be reasonably straight but is now a half moon shape. 

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Most memorable hole?

The par three 12th hole, the Mass Hole. Famous, because in pagan times, mass was celebrated in the hollow between you and sanctuary. We always played the par 3's in Waterville off the plates (something sadistic in there!) and this hole is a beauty. 200 yards consisting of tee box -> green. Anything in between will be attending evening service! 

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Abiding Memory

The old 16th was known as "Liams Ace" after local pro, Liam Higgins, had a hole in one on it. Nothing too strange about that, I hear you say, except, It's a par four. Twelve of us used to turn up to play years ago, 36 holes a day, and then out all night, oh how times have changed. In saying that I did play it this year and it was so good that we played a few extra holes, 24 holes in all. One of the staff members came out in a buggy and asked if we were lost? No, we replied, just enjoying going around and around Waterville! 

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Fun Fact

The first hole in Waterville is named "Last Easy." Couldn't describe the course better! They have a dry sense of humor in Kerry! If you ever get to play the course, all the holes are named with a story plaque on each tee, worth reading!

 The Links at Fancourt - I have played there a number of times, and it is nothing short of magnificent. Build on an old airfield in between mountains and designed by Gary Player, you would have a lot of money on it that this traditional links was 100 years old. The best way to describe Fancourt is like playing golf on the moon. Nothing is flat. 

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Most memorable hole?

The par four 12th hole, known as "Sheer MuRRder." Nearly 500 yards of well, trouble, except for the green sliver running down the middle that they call the fairway. It is one of those holes, a par four, that can be tough to make 5, 6 or 7 on. No bailout areas, except the swamp. Just depends on how much trouble you find, especially off the tee. 

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Abiding Memory

The tee boxes. As in the picture above, you made your way out to the tee boxes along those wooden paths, a couple of feet above a swamp. With things in it! Standing on those tee boxes was intimidating to say the least. 

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Fun Fact

Only four fourballs were allowed to play each day on the links, and you had to walk. No buggies or caddie cars here. You were assigned a caddie who was an expert at golf. Everything about Fancourt is class with the accommodation on a par with another course on this list later on! 

 Real club de Sotogrande - Living next door to its famous brother, Valderrama, I always thought this was the better of the two courses. Both are Robert Trent Jones designs, but this has some room off the tee and is an enjoyable days walk through an undulating topography. Jones had it in his top 5 courses out of 500 that he designed.

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Most memorable hole?

The par four 7th hole, not barely 400 yards long but a beautiful hole that fits like a glove to the surrounding landscape. A narrow fairway (it's wider than it appears) leaves you with a short downhill shot to a water-protected green. The mansion behind the 7th green reminds you this is "old money" Spain. Sotogrande is no running, reserved and class!

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Abiding Memory

Water, most everywhere! As in a lot of his designs, Trent Jones produced a masterpiece here with the greens being the primary defence along with the water hazards! Manicured to perfection, this is no brute, but a thinking mans golf course, get out of position and better ring Phil!

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Fun Fact

Played a lot of golf here and it's always cool to see the Harrington name on the clubhouse wall. Padraig won the Sherry Cup here, an amateur tournament of some standing contested by upwards of twenty European countries. Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy are also past winners of the event. 

 Royal Liverpool - Hoylake - I played it again last year and was impressed with the green surrounds. They are as tough as you will get, humps and hollows and never a flat lie, tight lies over deep bunkers make this a shot makers dream and a nightmare for the average player. Beautiful and bleak, this is one of the finest links you will play

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Most memorable hole?

The last ten holes, still a blur, after turning in one under par, God, Buddha or whoever you believe in, did a great job of bringing me to my knees. What a golf course!

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Abiding Memory

The first hole. A complete dogleg right around a field. A small bank separates you from the out of bounds. Clubhouse on the left is very much in play if you are prone to hook the ball. And then there was the starter! Nice guy but kind of made you nervous as he described the opening tee shot. There are easier opening shots in golf!

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Fun Fact

Watching my playing partners try to putt around bunkers as the notorious tight lies took their toll on their already nervous short games.  


 Royal Birkdale - I have played it many times and it never disappoints. A typical seaside links course that you will find in England or Scotland. Meanders along through dunes and has some terrific short par 4's that require you to be super accurate to attack the green complexes. A gem in Southport, Liverpool. 

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Most memorable hole?

The four par 3's, all running in different directions, made club selection hazardous. The runs offs, bunkering and thick rough on the hills surrounding the short hole greens made them priceless if you could play them in 12 strokes or less.  Not over long by modern standards, two of them check in at around 200 yards; it was the small landing areas that made them a joy to play!

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Abiding Memory

Hard to get away from Padraig defending his Open Championship crown here and winning his second Major en route to three in the space of thirteen months. It was the perfect course for him and the ideal conditions. He was brought up in those conditions and when others cried "enough" he kept going, even with a wrist injury. His second shot in the final round, into the par five 17th, with a five wood, to effectively seal the dealwas class.

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Fun Fact

The bunkers at Royal Birkdale have some type of seaside sand in them that make them a joy to play out of. You rarely will find a flat lie in them so the sand helps in allowing you to play aggressively. 

 Royal Portrush - finally got the recognition it deserves with the Open Championship being played there in 2019. Two new holes have been added since I last played it replacing the 17th and 18th holes, to make way for the tented village. A true risk/reward golf course, good play will yield birdies, poor play will yield lost golf balls!

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Most memorable hole?

Has to be the par three "Calamity" hole, which consists of a tee box and a green roughly 200 yards away! But a close second would be the beautiful par four, 5th hole, a sweeping dogleg down to the sea across an ocean of rough from an elevated tee. Stunning! 

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Abiding Memory

I had great times here during the North of Ireland Championships caddying for Padraig. We used to go the Valley clubhouse after play and were made very welcome. Nice people in Portrush and I'm sure the Open Championship will be a great success!  

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Fun Fact

  Got caught up in traffic one year on the way to caddy for Padraig in the qualifying for the North of Ireland Championship. He promptly shot a then course record of 65. Who needs a caddy?

 Turnberry - on the Open Championship rota for a reason, I played it on a Saturday morning and remember it well. It was 18 tough holes with a lot of undulations around the greens especially the par 3's. The rough was up for some reason? Maybe it is always that way and anything left, or right was wedge back to the fairway, (if you could find it!) The least enjoyable of the ten on my list but has to make it on quality alone. 

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Most memorable hole?

Had to be the par four 9th hole, (now changed and the lighthouse is the halfway house!) we went back to the pro tee and it was an awesome sight across the bay to the landmark lighthouse. I couldn't resist and hit a tee shot, nailed it, but barely made it out onto the fairway. That type of course!

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Abiding Memory

Played here with my father on a windy day and some years later remember watching in awe at Greg Norman DRIVE the course into submission in the second round of the 1986 Open Championship. Greg won that year and shot an unbelievable (especially if you ever played the course!) 63 on the Friday!

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Fun Fact

There was no fun at Turnberry; it was wet and windy and tough! One of those golf courses that was great to play once but if you were a member, you would take up chess. 

 Sage Valley - rumor was that the owner wanted to join Augusta National and finding this avenue to golfing bliss blocked, decided to build his own. Tom Fazio got to work in 2001, and I thought it was beautiful. It is a mere stone's throw away from Augusta National and has that same air of exclusivity about it. The sub-air system under the greens made them slick and the generally the course gets about 20 rounds a day so is in pristine condition. The lodges on the course were 5-star quality as was everything about the place!

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Most memorable hole?

The par three 2nd hole. Played downhill and over water, it was not overlong but was beautifully framed. All the holes were named after flowers and shrubs just like its more illustrious neighbour up the road!

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Abiding Memory

The general set up of the whole complex. It was built on a vast acreage and included a hunting and shooting club with lodges for overnight stay. The welcome was first class, and after the golf, we got a tour of the property. Money can really build anything! 

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Fun Fact

The floodlit putting green outside your lodge. Late at night, they would have putting competitions under the floodlights. Needless to say after spending many hours putting under the clubhouse lights at my home club, Stackstown, it was easy money collected from the locals.  


An hour to spare?
Podcast Corner!

am a big fan of Podcasts, and I like to listen to them in the background while working on all things digital. There are some terrific ones around (if you know where to look) and I will try to guide you towards some of my favorites. This week it's a visit to Golf Channel for their podcast with Joe LaCava, caddie to one Tiger Woods. Enjoy!


Last Word

Last word this week goes to Pine Valley GC. Not the one in Rathfarnham where I grew up playing golf.
The one ranked #1 in New Jersey, USA.


have Pine Valley on my bucket list and have to admit that I know a member there (Irish!) who has invited me to play many times. It looks awesome, to be honest as the video flyover below will attest! To finish my top ten countdown, a special mention has to go to three clubs, all in Rathfarnham, Dublin, that I worked at as I grew up. Edmonstown GC is where I started my working career, cleaning locker rooms and then working in the bar. The trade-off for the 50 pence an hour working conditions (1977) was being allowed to play the course in the afternoons. I had my first eagle there, (two on the par four, 11th hole) and my first albatross, (two on the par five, 4th hole). Happy memories. The second club was the Grange GC where I caddied at weekends, (two bags a round, 2 rounds, at a fiver a bag), I was rich! I remember, often, on our way home from Stackstown climbing over the wall at the par three, 11th hole (still there today!) and hitting shots as the light faded. More happy memories! Finally, the Castle GC where I worked in the kitchens with a 5 handicap chef, we used to practice on the tiled floor! I have always loved that golf course, it is presented in immaculate condition, and I have always got a warm welcome back, it nearly made it onto my top ten list of golf courses I have played! 



Thank you for reading, it is much appreciated, 
Christmas is definitely on the way when the Top ten lists start to appear!
If you are looking for a Christmas gift, this might interest you!

If not, have a Happy Christmas and a great golfing year in 2019! 
Enjoy your golf if you get out to play this week and talk next Tuesday, 
Hopefully, the weather will behave!

Tadhg.

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