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Which Are Better: Scottish Links Courses or Irish Links Courses? You Can Only Pick One

Having to pick between Scottish and Irish links courses is a difficult choice when both provide some of the world's greatest golf experiences, but that doesn't stop Morning Read's John Hawkins and Mike Purkey from debating.
Hawk and Purk Podcast

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Do you favor Scottish or Irish links golf?

Hawk's take: Scotland has all the big names, several of which comprise the backbone of the British Open rota, but the world’s best golf can be found on the Emerald Isle, simple as that. Ballybunion, Royal County Down, Lahinch, Waterville, Royal Portrush ... Anyone who has made the trip is fully aware of the visual grandeur and fun factor that punctuate the experience in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

The North probably has the more dramatic terrain, the lower courses a stronger seaside flavor, forming a combination that makes those extensive drives on single-lane roads a small price to pay. Scotland isn’t exactly suburban Detroit when it comes to commercial development, but it makes Ireland almost seem primitive, which is why the R&A avoided the Isle for 68 years until returning the Open Championship to Portrush in 2019.

You could ask 10 veterans of Irish links to name their favorite, and there’s a decent chance you’ll get 10 different answers. County Down is most commonly identified as the best course in the United Kingdom. Ballybunion and Lahinch are a pair of tucked-away gems on the western coast. Neither is barbarically long, meaning they rarely host the European Tour’s Irish Open, but like dozens of others in the region, they turn lousy rounds into an amusing memory and good ones into a reason to brag.

Just make sure to bring your best rain gear. And plenty of golf balls.

Purk's take: The difference between the lineup of Irish and Scottish links is to compare a filet mignon dinner and a 12-course feast. Each is indescribably delicious but the latter will keep you satisfied for a much longer time. The top of the Scottish list of links is without parallel. The Old Course at St. Andrews is revered for its history but is also universally praised for being a thinking person’s course. Most people say the more you play the Old Course, the more you appreciate the nuance.

Then, there’s Muirfield, the fairest and most complete test of all the links. Carnoustie can be the most difficult links in the world under the right conditions. Turnberry is the most scenic of the Scottish links and Royal Troon is one of the finest of the out-and-back links.

However, that only scratches the surface of great Scottish links. Royal Dornoch in the north of Scotland is the favorite of golf architecture aficionados and might be the purest of all the links. Nearby Royal Aberdeen has perhaps the most difficult front nine in the country. Prestwick, with all its quirks, is steeped in history. And North Berwick has a fan club that runs deep and wide.

And you must include Gullane No. 1, Cruden Bay, Machrihanish, Nairn and Western Gailes. Of course, there are the “modern” links of Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, Renaissance Club and Trump International.

You can make a meal of the best Irish links but in Scotland, it’s like getting a different dessert every day.

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