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Rankings announced: Northern Ireland links is (still) the greatest golf course in the world

By Gareth Hanna

Royal County Down's Championship Links has retained its crown as the world's greatest golf course.

That's according to Golf Digest's third edition of the World 100 Greatest Golf Courses, which ranked Royal Portrush's Dunluce Links seventh. That's up a mammoth 20 places from the previous rankings after major work on the course, creating two brand new holes ahead of next year's Open Championship.

A total of eight Irish courses made the list which, despite being described as 'truly global', rather bizarrely doesn't include courses in the United States of America.

That, Golf Digest tries to explain, is because the rankings are 'determined differently.'

"America's 100 Greatest is always based on evaluations by North American panelists judging courses in seven criteria," they say. "The World 100 Greatest uses a single criterion of overall greatness scored not just by Americans but also by international panelists organized by our affiliate magazines around the world."

It's been two years since the last rankings were released but the top course has remained the same, RCD's Championship Links again beating the likes of St Andrew's (5), Sunningdale (12) and Carnoustie (21).

The judging panel reckoned the Newcastle course, which sandwiches the town between itself and Slieve Donard, is the nicest location golf has to offer.

They said: "On a clear spring day, with Dundrum Bay to the east, the Mountains of Mourne to the south and gorse-covered dunes in golden bloom, there is no lovelier place in golf. The design is attributed to Old Tom Morris but was refined by half a dozen architects in the past 120 years, most recently by Donald Steel. Though the greens are surprisingly flat, as if to compensate for the rugged terrain and numerous blind shots, bunkers are a definite highlight, most with arched eyebrows of dense marram grasses and impenetrable clumps of heather."

RCD, of course, hosted the Irish Open in 2015. While summer green-fees can top £200, if you get in before March, you can play the world's top course for £70.

The remaining six Irish courses the make the list are Ballybunion (16), Lahinch (34), Waterville (55), Portmarnock (58), Old Head of Kinsale (83), and the European Club in Brittas Bay (92). Scotland has the most courses on the list with 16, topped by second placed Royal Dornoch, while Australia's Royal Melbourne completes the top three. You can see the full list right here. Top of Golf Digest's American course ranking is Pine Valley.

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