The Oldest Golf Clubs in Ireland

In the second half of the 19th century, the first golf clubs were founded in Ireland as listed in the table below. Some had military connections or were started by Scottish and English settlers, or by local businessmen.

  • The nine Links Golf courses listed have proved to be most successful.
  • FIve of them are in the World Rankings: Royal County Down, Portmarnock, Royal Portrush, Lahinch and Ballybunion.
  • Royal County Down, Portmarnock, Royal Portrush and typically the top 3 courses in Ireland.
  • The links courses that offer the best value by not inflating their fees are Lahinch, County Louth and County Sligo.
  • Royal Dublin is unique in that it is only 3 miles from the centre of Dublin.
  • Malone and Royal Belfast (both in Belfast) are currently the highest-ranked inland courses.
  • Athlone and Curragh are well regarded and often make Ireland top 100 from other listings.
  • Ardglass is not generally recognised by ranking panels but being close to Royal County Down it is enjoyed by many visiting golfers.

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The Oldest Club – Members of The Curragh Golf Club play their golf over the Oldest Golf Course in Ireland, dating from 1852, when a course was laid out “on the links near Donnelly’s Hollow” by David Ritchie, from Edinburgh.

The club’s historian Col. Wm. Gibson (retd) discovered this in 1981 and he has recently found that a Golf Club was established at the Curragh Camp by the Royal Lanark Militia in 1858; some 21 years prior to the institution of the currently recognised oldest club in Ireland, Royal Belfast (1881). In 1851 David Ritchie came to Ireland from his native Edinburgh, Scotland, where he had been a member of the ancient golf club of Royal Musselburgh (founded 1774).

On his death in 1910 the Kildare Observer reported: ”He claimed… to be the oldest golfer in Ireland, as he had ample proof of playing with the late Mr. Alexander Love on links he organised at Donnelly’s Hollow at the Curragh, County Kildare in the early fifties of the last century."

The Irish Times newspaper of 13th July 1982 publicised a competition run by the Curragh Golf Club to commemorate the 125th anniversary of a match played by David Ritchie and Alexander Love….”on the links near Donnelly’s Hollow”. As a result, Mrs. Christina Adams, grand-daughter of David Ritchie, contacted the Club and prior to her death presented a portrait of her father which hangs in a place of honour in the clubhouse.

In 1852 the British Earl of Eglington, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and founder Captain of Prestwick Golf Club (1851) in Scotland, played golf on the Curragh with a Col Campbell of the Queen's Bays (British Army).

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Golf Vacations in Ireland

Irelands Oldest Golf Clubs

Date Golf Club Type 2012 Ranking Location
1858 Curragh Heathland 100+ County Kildare
1881 Royal Belfast Parkland 72 Belfast
1885 Royal Dublin Links 19 Dublin
1888 Royal Portrush Links 3 Causeway Coast
1889 Royal County Down Links 1 County Down
1892 Lahinch Links 6 County Clare
1892 Athlone Lakeside 100+ County Roscommon
1892 County Louth Links 9 North of Dublin
1893 Ballybunion Links 5 County Kerry
1894 County Sligo Links 11 Rosses Point Sligo
1894 Portmarnock Links 2 Outside Dublin
1894 Ballinasloe Parkland 100+ Galway
1894 Portstewart Links 17 Causeway Coast
1895 Malone Parkland 52 Belfast
1896 Ardglass Clifftop 100+ County Down


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