However, one soon emerges onto the open Murvagh peninsula and the sight of rolling duneland lifts the spirits.
The Club was established in 1959 with a course opening for play in 1960 but much of the present course was created by Eddie Hackett in 1973 although significant revisions were carried out by Pat Ruddy in the 1990s with further improvements continuing to this day. New bunkering and the creation of several raised greens with deflecting contours have been the main alterations in recent times.
The course is laid out over a spacious expanse of land on the stunning promontory, requires some big, accurate hitting and for the most part offers an exciting, raw links golf experience. Par is 73 and the top yardage is a mighty 6,819 meters! Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal Bay and a designated Special Area of Conservation, it is one of the longest golf courses in Europe. As you can perhaps imagine Murvagh can be tough taskmaster and is often dubbed the “Muirfield of Ireland”.
Having booked a 4pm tee time, after driving over from Dublin on the back of an early morning ferry from Holyhead, I hoped I would miss the lunchtime rush and be able to sneak out before the Thursday teatime roll-up for a quick knock. This strategy would have worked a treat had it not been for a group of four golfers who just beat me to the first tee; four yanks and two buggies… what could possibly go wrong?!
Despite arriving on the 2nd tee before the quartet had even driven off it quickly became apparent they were not for budging so I settled in for the long haul. Fortunately this did give me time to have a play around many of the green complexes and experience their rejecting slopes.
Holes one to four are not the most inspiring start to the course but there is some solid, strategic golf on this fairly flat, almost pastoral section of the links where the arable land meets sandy ground. The evil centre bunker just short of the first green is an early highlight and the cruel drop-offs at the following two holes add much interest…. or pain, depending upon your perspective.
However, Murvagh starts to have some real fun from the 5th where we embark on an amazing stretch of links golf. Not only is it a wonderful and invigorating walk along the coast but at 5, 6, 7 and 8 we enjoy four dazzling golf holes.
The uniqueness of each one is wonderful, from the “Valley of Tears” par-three to the pair of intriguing par-fives at six and eight; the former of which has a killer greenside bunker/crater close to the semi-punchbowl green which is deviously out of sight on the approach. The cascading fairway at the seventh is also a delight to play.
The back-nine, routed inside the outer looping front-nine, is less dramatic but the fairway bunkering continues to impress and a burn is well used to make one think too. I particularly liked how the fairway bunkers were actually in the fairways and not periphery in the rough! It is easy to see why this powerhouse of a course is admired by so many.
I’m never truly going to warm to a course with five par-fives and at times Donegal can feel like a bit of a slog but there is more than enough good stuff to place this course close to the top of a golfing itinerary when visiting the North West of Ireland.
Copt Heath is a very fine parkland golf course that requires precision, plotting and a deft touch around the slick greens.
The Blue is a mix of American-style design and traditional English parkland. It's an unusual combination which makes the most of the terrain available. It was designed by Simon Gidman and opened in 1994.