On a visit to Dublin the stereotypes are rich and familiar: Guinness, music, conversation.
Golf would not, at first glance, make the cut. But it should.
If Scotland is and will always remain the home of golf, then Ireland is the luxurious holiday home you never want to leave.
“Portmarnock, Royal Dublin, The Island and Portmarnock Links have everything a golfer could wish for.”
And while the spectacular Wild Atlantic Way provides some incredible experiences in the shape of Old Head and Ballybunion, and the north of the island can boast Royal Portrush and Enniscrone.
The Dublin coast is truly stunning; jam-packed with one heavyweight layout after another. It is, quite frankly, unmissable. Not only because of the extraordinary quality of the courses, but the ease with which you can travel in and out and the fabulous restaurants and hotels on offer in the area.
The quartet of Portmarnock, Royal Dublin, The Island and Portmarnock Links have between them everything a golfer could wish for. History, tradition, and links layouts that are both fair and demanding in equal measure. And each of them come not only with a wonderful test of golf but also with the very warmest of welcomes, an embrace that comforts and warms you.
It’s generosity of spirit, it’s kindness and charm. This is my attempt to put all of that into words.
THE GOLF: our 4 must-play courses
A truly iconic name with a course to match. Portmarnock is the grandaddy of links layouts on this coastline. The greats of the game have all graced the hallowed greens and fairways of this majestic golf course and they speak with a unanimous voice, when they deliver their verdict: outstanding.
“One of the most enjoyable links courses I have had an opportunity to play.” Tiger Woods on Portmarnock.
Fast, firm and, above all, fair – this is a course that, on the one hand, is beautifully presented but, on the other, will demand every shot you have (and many you don’t) as you reach into the bag for every one of those 14 golf clubs. It’s natural links golf. Golf as it was meant to be played.
It feels right, if that makes sense.
It was a warm July morning when I crossed the bridge and drove out onto the peninsula on which Portmarnock sits. Surrounded by water on three sides, this is a golf course that is visually breathtaking but also wide open to the elements. When the wind gets up, the challenge is immense.
Whatever the weather, the welcome will always be warm. The clubhouse is, like the course, majestic and yet traditional – in some areas, to a fault.
You will need your dress shoes to wander through to the bar or restaurant. But it’s worth it. The food (I had a sumptuous and much needed fish and chips post round) was superb. I took a buggy to the excellent practice facilities, a range where you play off the turf and a short-game area that you could get lost in for hours. In short, it has everything a golfer needs and more.
The 1st tee is just to the right of the clubhouse and despite three bunkers on the left and water on the right, is a relatively gentle introduction to what lies ahead. Here’s all you need to know.
- Best hole: The 15th – 204yd Par 3. Portmarnock’s signature hole is a thing of beauty. The tee sits above the beach and the crashing waves. The green is beautiful but fiercely defended. Go right and you will be on the beach. Go left (as I did) and you will end up at the bottom of a beautifully manicured but very deep dip with very little prospect of making your par.
- Hardest hole: The 4th – 474yd Par 4. Tough from the tee shot to the green. Bunkers sit in dangerous sets of pairs all along the right hand side of this fairway, with sand dunes up the left. Thread your drive between all the trouble and you will still have a long iron second shot to this tricky green. And once you are there, it slops away from you and long putts can easily disappear off the green.
- Longest hole: The 6th – 603yd Par 5. Unless your name is Rory or Dustin this is a three shot par 5. And then some. Clever bunkering and even a pond 140 yards short of the green, constantly have the golfer thinking and plotting the best place to play your next short from. Can often be played into the wind.
Phone Number: +353 1 846 2968
Designers: William Pickerman and George Ross in 1894
Cost: €145 -€225 Click for current rates
Where it ranks: 2nd on Golf Digest Ireland’s Top 100 list and 25th in the world.
Length: 7,466 yards from the back tees. Par 72.
Often confused with its more celebrated neighbour, Portmarnock Links is the relative new kid on the block, having been opened in 1996. And yet with the careful and quiet genius of Bernard Langer having designed the layout, this is a golf course and resort that belies its age and one which weaves its way through dramatic dunes and the Irish Sea to deliver a genuinely authentic links experience.
The land is the ancestral home of the famous Jameson whiskey family, who once had a nine-hole golf course here. The hotel that sits within a pitch and a putt of the first tee was once home to the Jameson family and has all the architectural grandeur that you would expect of it.
The golf course also benefits from a brilliant piece of land. Natural links used cleverly and simply by Langer. Like the player himself, it places substance over style and careful thought over thunder.
The first eight holes meander inland, clever bunkering and challenging greens to the fore. From then on, the sand dunes and the sea views take over. Firm, fast, but overwhelming fair, Portmarnock Links has all the ingredients to become one of Ireland’s best young courses .
Langer himself put it best when he said: ““There are very few locations in Europe which could have allowed me the opportunity and landscape to design such a classic championship links. I hope all those who play it discover its magic and its challenging beauty.”
If that doesn’t tempt you, nothing will. Here’s all you need to know.
- Best hole: The 18th – 446yd Par 4. With Portmarnock beach to your right and imposing dunes to your left this a wonderful finishing hole as you play back towards the luxurious hotel and a place to rest your feet. A straight drive is required and a medium iron will get you there. Enjoy.
- Longest hole: The 13th – 631yd Par 5. This is a brute of a hole from the back tees. A good drive will need to avoid cleverly placed bunkers to leave you needing to place your second carefully to give yourself a chance. The green has a false front, so take more club than you think.
Phone Number: + 353 1 846 0611
Designers: Bernard Langer
Cost: €75 -€165 Click for current rates
Where it ranks: Ranked 16th in Ireland on the top 100 courses list.
Length: 7,123 yards from the back tees. Par 71.
Closest to the city itself, Royal Dublin is a truly tremendous links course and a real test of your game. Founded in 1885 by Sir John Lumsden, the club is steeped in golfing history and is widely accepted as one of the greatest links courses in Ireland. The course is a traditional out-and-back design created in 1920 by Harry Colt. In the early 2000’s Martin Hawtree made significant changes which have preserved the magnificent character of the course but ensured it remains as challenging for the modern golfer as it ever was. For more details and for green fees and visitor info, click here.
To complete this astonishing quarter of incredible golf courses, pay a visit to The Island. Surrounded by the ocean on three sides, this is another classic links course that cuts its way through the highest sand dunes on the coast. Many people in this part of the world, call it ‘the best golf course in Ireland that you have never heard of.’ Each of the 18 holes feel in keeping and at one with the surroundings, the towering dunes providing natural amphitheatres around the course. The range of flora and fauna is spectacular. Your golf better be every bit as good if you are to play well here. For more info click here.
AWAY FROM THE COURSE
WHERE TO STAY: The 5-star Portmarnock Hotel is a spectacular hotel. The public spaces are beautifully finished and the rooms are bright and airy, with delightfully appointed bathrooms and soft furnishings. The restaurant is excellent and the views from my room, via a roof terrace, took in the 1st tee of the golf course, 18th green and the spectacular Irish sea just over the sand dunes. And once you have come off the golf course, or before you venture out for dinner, have a drink in the Jameson bar, for a cold pint of Guinness or a tumbler of Irish whiskey and a history lesson. A more beautiful place to stay, you will struggle to find. Visit www.portmarnock.com to make reservations and to find the best packages and rates. You really won’t regret it. Enjoy.
WHERE TO EAT: I can’t say enough good things about Aqua.
Located at the very end of Howth’s West Pier in a building with a long and apt history, Aqua has the best seat in town with legendary views across Howth Sound to the island of Ireland’s Eye. It is a truly spectacular place to watch the sun go down. And the food is every bit as good as the view. Fish caught locally and fresh as you will ever taste. And salads which come from a local restaurant garden run on Howth Hill. I had a genuinely memorable fillet of Sea Bass which I still have daydreams about and the lobster and prawns I had to start we just as good. Aqua also has a fantastic wine list. I would recommend you book and request a table by the vast windows. You won’t be disappointed. To make a reservation, visit www.aqua.ie and say Ben sent you.