Despite being played over similar rugged terrain no hole feels even remotely the same and this is its biggest asset; 18 individual and exceptional holes where the array of golf on offer is superb.
The par 71, 6,271-metre layout delivers full fat dune golf, especially on the front nine, of a particularly high standard. Host to The Amateur Championship in 2019 with Portmarnock Golf Club and a Regional Qualifying Course for The Open Championship between 2013-2017 the course is real top drawer material.
Despite being located next to Donabate Estuary and bordered by water on three sides we do not get to see much of the sea from the links but the views towards Malahide – from where golfers used to boat across - is a captivating horizon for long periods of the round with aeroplanes regularly taking-off from and landing at nearby Dublin airport.
Established in 1890, the course has seen many changes over the decades the main one being when the clubhouse was relocated in the 1970s and the course was significantly altered over the following years. More recent changes were made in the mid 2000s which included the out-of-character tenth.
There’s no denying that if you are offline you will be punished at The Island with either a lie that requires a hack-out, or a lost ball in the mighty sandhills, but there is just about enough width to get away with it although the penal nature of the course counts as a slight black mark against it.
Tough but fair would be a description The Club may feel was accurate. However, playing Baltray on the same day it was noticeable how much more playable County Louth was and all the better for it.
The course starts with no less than 8 par-fours in a row yet it does not feel this way because the variety of holes is so great and the different types of shots one must play is truly excellent. By the time we have played just four holes we have already played to four points on the compass.
The first is a fine getaway hole with a flat fairway rising towards the green whilst the second and third are glorious holes with much more movement in the terrain and brilliant green complexes.
The fourth is a lovely snaking, funnelling hole, the fifth is blind with a tumbling, bubbling fairway and a slopy green, the sixth has a delightful green tucked behind a dune on a ledge, the seventh doesn’t require a single bunker because of the superb hogsback fairway which feeds into the green complex and the eighth has a fairway that ends abruptly with broken ground before a dell green. All wonderful stuff and not a hint of repetition.
Finally, we reach the short ninth which doesn’t look the best from the tee but gets better the closer you walk to the green thanks to a deep bunker to the left and some nice contouring to the right. It ends a front-nine which is of A-star quality.
I’m not particularly a fan of golf courses that are laid out in two loops of nine, especially when you have to walk directly through the clubhouse/car park complex and this is a very slight let down here but it may prove useful in case you need to nip back to your car to pick up a few more golf balls! *cough* *cough*
We begin the back nine on the opposite side of the property and the 10th (especially) and 11th are of a different nature to what we have seen thus far. Indeed the entire back nine has a contrasting feel to the front side but not in a negative way, just more variety and fluidity to the wonderful design. These two holes allow for a breather but still require good strategic golf. I wasn’t overly keen on the par-five 10th but the 11th is a classic hole with a fine, understated green complex.
The high intensity golf returns at the 12th – a dogleg par-four to a severely raised green – and the course then doesn’t let up until we are done. Over the final third of the round we enjoy some really individual holes.
The 13th is a bruiser of a par-three over a cavernous hollow whilst the next has an outrageously bum-clenchingly narrow fairway. It feels as if you are trying to land your drive on an impossible, slender ribbon of grass with dunes left and a lost ball in marshland to the right. It reminded me of a skinnier version of the 8th at Skibo Castle.
The exceptional par-five 15th has shades of Royal County Down about it and requires a good drive before playing to a partially blind green. The next is a steep, perhaps too much so, par-three and wasn’t quite to my taste but the 17th is a beauty and although the ‘championship’ 18th is a solid hole it lacks the charm of what has gone before it.
Overall there’s very little to dislike at The Island and so much to love. There are a couple of holes where there are some clear gather points on the fairway, riddled with divots, but that goes with the territory at courses with such rumbling terrain. And there is no denying it is a tough course, however, there is just so much to admire that these minor points are easily forgotten.
Green-fees start from around the €150 mark which is a lot of money for a game of golf and there are few courses I would ever advise anyone to pay this sum for hitting a little white ball over some sandy ground, but I think you get good value at The Island.
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.