If you wanted to create a round of golf containing the 18 best holes in Co. Cork, what would be on your list? There are the obvious courses and holes which everyone would include, namely holes from Old Head, Fota Island, and Cork, but what about the less high-profile courses?
There are 24 18-hole courses in Cork and the only condition in creating this unique round of golf is that no course can have more than two holes on the list. Measurements are as the club provide them.
1. Mitchelstown, par four No 4 (357/340m)
A longish par four which runs parallel to the car park. Pine trees stand alone on the left hand side of the fairway and these must be avoided if you’re to have any chance of reaching the green.
The putting surface lies on the far side of the River Funshion in a dell of trees.
It is the most intimidating shot of the day and explains why the 4th is Index 1. You must cross a bridge to reach the green.
2. Douglas, par four No 17 (360/351m)
The bunkerless 17th plays across the very bottom of the course using the slopes that are ever constant at Douglas.
It is a gentle right-to-left dogleg and with no bunker, you can surmise that those slopes can leave you with a hanging lie.
Keep your drive up the right-hand side so that your ball will roll back to more level ground. The right is also the optimum position from which to attack the green as trees squeeze your approach on the left.
You must also avoid the humps and hollows front left of the putting surface.
3. Castlemartyr, par three No 5 (211/189 yds)
An attractive but tough par three. The green is well bunkered on the left and behind so if you need a bailout area you must favour the right.
Clever placement of a bunker on the right might make you think otherwise but it’s a deception: it lies some 20 yards shy of the green.
The backdrop to the hole is gorse and trees… and the ruins of the castle built by the Knights Templar in the 13th century.
4. Old Head, par four No 2 (388/376 yds)
The par four 4th receives most of the plaudits as it plays out towards a green perched on the cliff-tops and underneath the lighthouse… but the 2nd hole is your first full introduction to the cliffs.
The tee box shows off the views and much of this right-angled dogleg, which plays right to left around slopes which quickly drop 300 feet to the ocean.
It is intimidating and inspiring and your approach shot is to a green with nothing behind it but sea and sky.
5. Skibbereen, par four No 13 (350/335 yards)
You’ll look at the yardage and not be fussed but this is Index 2 for good reason. The hole is pretty much straight and tees off from the top of the course.
This is no place for a big tee shot because your landing area is restricted and you have to find the short grass because of what follows.
The green sits up on a ridge, over a dip and fronted by gorse.
The flag sits temptingly on the skyline but you have to be so precise with your approach shot if you’re to stay on the putting surface.
A good driving hole… an even better approach hole.
6. Old Head, par five No 12 (554/537 yds)
Index 3 is a hole to live long in the memory, if not always for the right reasons… you could easily be playing five off the tee.
The hole wraps around the cliffs in a sharp dogleg and the tee shot may even be played from below the level of the cliffs (depending on your chosen tee).
Only the bravest will try to cut the dogleg, which means even more cliffs to cross… but what a thrill if you make it.
Unfortunately, finding the fairway means your job is only half done for the hole now shadows the clifftops all the way to the green, where a narrow neck leads to the putting surface.
Another couple of balls may vanish and anything resembling a par should be celebrated.
7. Cork Golf Club, par four No 16 (322/300 yards)
Several par fours at Cork deserve inclusion — many would say the 4th is the star
attraction — but the 16th is a smart hole.
A high tee, a high green and a left-to-right dogleg in between. The tee shot is tempting but you need to be clever with where you land your ball in order to provide the best approach to the green.
The fairway cut is well shaped and increases the challenge. When you reach your ball and see the shot that awaits you’ll appreciate your perfect positioning.
Fail to be in the right spot and the well-bunkered green becomes almost inaccessible.
8. Cobh, par three No 10 (167/149 yds)
An island green always draws attention and beyond Cobh’s 10th there’s the added bonus of a vast backdrop where the River Lee takes centre stage.
An enthralling shot from a high tee and even the most sweetly struck shot will leave the golfer wondering if their ball will find the putting surface… the ball seems to hang in the sky for ages.
If you find the shapely green you’ll have a bounce in your step crossing the bridge.
9. Lee Valley, par five No 15 (535/525 yds)
Christy O’Connor Jnr designed Lee Valley and he labelled the 15th his favourite. With its Index 4, it is also very tough.
A blind drive won’t suit everyone, especially as you want to be in the best possible position for your second shot.
When you walk over the crest it’s a lovely sight: a lake runs along the left of the fairway, up to the green, and that fairway narrows and snakes its way around the water.
It presents a serious threat to your approach shots. And with the green tucked into the left, just beyond the water, your knees will always be rattling.
10. Monkstown, par four No 10 (315/284m)
A tight, tree-lined par four playing over a dip, into a dogleg and then across a stream. From the tee it’s a delicious tee shot but one you need to tackle with care.
Favour the left and judge your distances carefully because despite its short length this hole demands the perfect shot to open up the green.
And the approach shot is just as good with the putting surface perched above the water and a backdrop of trees framing the green.
You should be hitting no more than an 8 iron so it will be a high towering shot that’s beautiful to watch.
11. Cork Golf Club, Par five No 5 (552/510 yds)
There are two ways to play this hole: from the easy tees or the hard tees. The latter sit close to the water and demand a blind drive over a dense sweep of gorse.
From here you can see the green sitting on a small promontory in Cork Harbour. It’s a beautiful looking hole.
To be fair, the ‘easy’ tees don’t make the tee shot that much easier: you still need to hit over bushes and a blind crest.
Your approach shots are over a softly shaped fairway that butts right up to the water.
You’ll need confidence to go for the green in two, especially as the harbour waters prove so distracting.
12. Fermoy, par four No 13 (420/390m)
A tough hole but as with others on this list it offers two fabulous shots.
From the tee you drive down between a wide avenue of heather and pine trees, over bumpy unpredictable terrain.
The green sits on the other side the dip and it shows off all of the hole’s charms.
A long par four so a big drive is required but the farther you go the more likely your second shot will be from a downhill lie… and that makes things very tricky indeed.
Index 1… and then some.
13. Fota Island, par four No 6 (357/330 yds)
A hole that makes the list for a couple of reasons: one, the original hole is a pleasure to play; and two, it’s a two-for-one.
When Fota Island introduced the new 6th tee in 2014, ahead of the Irish Open, it created an entirely new hole.
The old tees present a subtle left-to-right dogleg. It’s not long, just enchanting, with the green perched above a nest of bunkers, a pine-tree backdrop, and water beyond.
But the new tee turns it into a terror: it sits on the water’s edge, almost 100 yards from the old tee and now it’s straight… and straight over water.
It is no small carry either — some 170 yards — so only your best drive will clear the wall that lines the shore. Never has a green looked so far away on a short par four.
14. Macroom, par four No 9 (369/357m)
You’ve already played through some sweet woodland and the 9th is the crescendo to this strong run of holes.
From a high tee, you drive down into a valley of trees, over a stream to a deceptively sloping fairway.
Yes, a pretty drive but the hump-backed fairway can be cruel and make you approach to the green very awkward indeed.
It’s all on show from the tee and it needs an intelligent tee shot and a well-shaped second to find the green.
15. Mallow, par five No 3 (448/439m)
A hole that may not read long on the scorecard but one that nearly always plays that way. Chalk that down to the towering beech trees standing ominously on either side of the fairway as you approach the green.
You’ll want to be precise with your tee shot especially as the hole has that double dogleg S-shape.
Chances are that wherever you land your tee shot, those trees call for a well-shaped second shot, especially if you’re going for the green.
With Out of Bounds along the left, only the bravest will go for the green in two. Just one bunker required — front right of the green.
16. Mahon, par four No 5 (336/325m)
Yet another Index 1 on this list, and it’s a short par four with a tee shot to intimidate the best. The tee box juts out into the water — it doubles with the 11th — and your tee shot must carry a slice of the estuary before entering a left-to-right dogleg.
The fairway narrows before the ground rises gradually to a green where the putting surface can barely be seen.
It’s a tricky and deceptive shot. Remember, this is a public course and it emphasises how strong simple design can be.
17. Water Rock, par three No 12 (219/155 yds)
Water appears again on this stunningly pretty hole, named ‘Swan Lake’, which is worth the green fee alone… and at least two tee shots because, well, because you can.
The lake means your tee shot is all carry if you are to find the green and with three tees (240/219/155) it makes a huge difference to club selection.
Whichever you choose, it’s Index 1. Anything hit right or long is gone and while there’s a bailout to the left the trees could easily deflect your ball into the water.
In other words, find the green or else it’s trouble. Swan Lake indeed!
18. Fota Island, par five No 18 (507/479 yds)
A straight par five that fires into an avenue of trees, with one lone specimen on the left proving particularly irksome.
On a short par five you’ll be desperate to hit it straight and long so that you can reach the crest and see the green below.
As potentially the final approach shot of your round it is such a peach of a shot with the green surrounded by water and one of the most striking clubhouses forming the backdrop.
No matter how your scorecard reads you’ll want to finish in a blaze of glory and go for that green and a birdie or eagle chance.
Kevin Markham is the author of Hooked, An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland. By Collins Press.
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