Golf dates back to the 1850’s on the Portmarnock Peninsula, situated just 10 miles to the North of Dublin City, when the Jameson family of Irish Whiskey fame had their own private golfing playground, however, it wasn’t until 1894 that the Portmarnock Golf Club was founded and a further couple of years before the course had 18 holes, laid out in two loops of nine through the shallow dunes on this narrow strip of land.
Mungo Park was responsible for the first nine holes with founder, WC Pickeman, adding the second nine. Martin Hawtree made some significant changes ahead of the Irish Open in 2003 to this most classic, traditional and respected of seaside links. More recently some additional tweaks have seen the R&A beef up the 10th by an extra 20-yards along with some other minor alterations when several trees were lost in a storm a few years ago.
Portmarnock is a very fine and fair test of golf. It is a pure links that very much plays along the ground and is a highly strategic test of golf. There is little in the way of major changes in elevation but there are some exceptional ground contours and the course shines brightest when we do see a little bit more movement in the land.
For me these moments come at the 8th, 10th, 12th, 14th and 15th in what is a stellar stretch of golf. The green complexes at these holes are nothing less than magnificent with either pronounced drop-offs or in the case of the 15th an idyllic setting alongside the beach. The 8th, 10th and 14th greens contain everything I love; slightly raised, narrow entrances and lots of short grass around them giving options for the recovery shot of your choice. Each one blends into the surrounds so well too- like the best green complexes they actually start from tens of yards away from the actual putting surface.
There are couple of breathtaking moments during the round where we get to see wonderful views of the beach and estuary but the true beauty of Portmarnock is in the strategy and challenge of the holes. It asks a question on every tee and has an outstanding bunker scheme. The gorse also adds a splash of colour to the links but very rarely does this come into play.
The first five holes are all par fours and a nice introduction to the round with the first, and only, blind shot of the round coming at the fifth – you do have to be a little careful here because a fairway bunker eats into the fairway down the right and you obviously cannot see this from the tee. The excellent par five 6th rises up to the green with a deep, grassy hollow to the left whilst the short 7th plays from a high tee to a sheltered green.
With the exception of the ninth I would claim that the front nine certainly favours somebody who draws the ball because several of the holes a suit this shape of shot.
The aforementioned run from the 8th to the 15th is first class in every sense and epitomises everything that is great golfing at Portmarnock where you are as exposed to the elements as any course on the island of Ireland.
Holes 16, 17 and 18 are also a fitting conclusion to an extremely high quality championship round of golf. The last in particular is a superb finishing hole with the fairway feeding into a right hand bunker if you are not careful before a precision approach shot is required to a prominent green setting.
At 7,454 yards from the Blue markers (par 72) Portmarnock is a golf course that would be capable of hosting The Open Championship should the R&A ever wish to venture into the Republic of Ireland. It’s also a course that the professionals would no doubt love because of the fair nature to the holes. Everything is earned here and whilst you still have the vagaries of links golf it is just about as equitable as it comes.
Ultimately there is much more to Portmarnock than just the golf course. It is an old school club with an exceptionally rich history. Give yourself some time to soak in the atmosphere of the wonderful red-roofed clubhouse and in particular the hallway adorned with memorabilia and some stunning silverware.
Presentation of the course, on my visit in late April, and the service away from the links was incredible, as you might expect from a venue that charges 350 Euros for 27 holes, plus a compulsory caddy fee! Golfing at Portmarnock is not cheap but if you are a student of the history of the game, a lover of pure links golf and willing to splurge the cash for a special occasion that should take in the full day then I cannot think of many better places to hand my money over to.
In terms of the golf alone it’s a course that has stood the test of time and undoubtedly requires multiple plays to truly understand all of its many virtues. I hope one day I will be able to say that I know them all.
Waterville provides a fantastic mix of championship golf & more quirky duney fun.
Dingle Golf Links, sometimes referred to as Ceann Sibéal Golf Club, is one that is trending in the right direction.