Either way it was fabulous to finally visit this remote part of the world on a recent trip to Ireland and unravel the mystery where sea, sand and dunes collide to dramatic effect on a narrow strip of linksland.
Originally founded in 1905 but most recently redesigned by Gill Hanse and Jim Wagner the course is a slow burner. The first few holes are played on flatter land away from the sea and ease us into the round. As we discover there are contrasting styles at play during the 18 holes.
The first is a quirky start to the round – the tee is part of the putting green (which I really like), we have out-of-bounds cutting in which narrows the fairway at driving distance (which I like) and unusual mounding on the fairway (which I don’t like) before we play up to a fine green site (which I like) or down to the left towards a much more regulation green (which I don’t like) – I’m not sure which will be the main green going forwards. Overall, I really like the hole but I’m not sure if it quite works as the first.
These opening holes also give us a glimpse of what is to come as the links is largely an out and back affair. We can spy over the left on our outward journey that good things will happen at some point.
Things start to warm up at the fourth and fifth and then we hit the really good stuff.
The sixth is a do or die par-three played over a vast hollow to a plateau green. The seventh is a short, downhill par-four with a cascading fairway and a three-leafed clover shaped green set in a dell with a stunning back drop of sea and mountains. I mean c’mon who doesn’t like that?
As for the eighth we have Ballybunion vibes going on here as we drive blind over a summit to a tumultuous fairway right along the coast before playing to a gorgeous green complex in the very far reaches of the property.
We take a breath at the short ninth and we need it because the 10th is another epic hole; a par-five to another wondrous fairway and a green set atop a dune over looking the ocean. And we end this blistering stretch with a diddy par-three to a green cut into the foot of a dune. All great stuff.
Holes 12 and 13 return to the inland side of the massive dune ridge that runs the length of the course. But these two holes are much better than the opening trio. One works left-to-right and the next the opposite way. Good solid links golf.
And then for the grand finale! Or is it?
The terrain is set up for some spectacular golf over the last five holes and it is very good, but not great. It almost feels is that there was enough land for four superb holes or five good ones. The fact we have two short par-threes shoehorned in perhaps confirms this.
Par is 70 and the yardage tops out at 6,940. This is quite remarkable considering that the longest of the short holes is just 147 yards at its maximum. Indeed all par-threes can play a similar length. They certainly did for me on a relatively calm day. I suspect this will change with the strength of the wind because they do play in different directions. I’m all for short one-shotters but with five on the card it did feel as though the course lacked a lengthier par-three.
At Narin & Portnoo the highs are very high and this may elevate it in some peoples books. For me, it just felt a little disjointed at times and lacked any sort of cadence and rhythm; this is something I’m increasing looking for, especially at top courses.
Narin & Portnoo was recently included at #74 in the Top 100 GB&I on the Top 100 Golf Courses of the World website. This is exceptionally high praise and I must admit I think it is punching above its weight in this regard but it is very fine links nonetheless.
Ultimately the course is a bit of mixed bag where the individual parts are perhaps better than the overall sum. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the course and at times it is as good as it gets.
Away from the course you’re likely to meet a group of Americans in the clubhouse which is a sign that this once hidden gem is now well and truly on the map. Will it live up to the hype?
The game of golf has the ability to take you on amazing journeys to the most wondrous places where you meet such interesting people.
It was an impulsive, crazy… and some would say utterly ridiculous… decision that took me to The Machrie in the Spring of 2018.