Within a picturesque curve of coastline Portmarnock sits on a spit of shallow dunes flanked by the Irish Sea on one-side, and the bay on the other. It’s outrageously convenient for visitors to play being just 10 miles to north of Dublin City and only a 15-minute drive from Dublin Airport.
In 1893, two hardy Scottish pioneers rowed across to the peninsular to investigate the scope of some land which until then had been used as a private for the famous distiller, John Jameson. Nine “proper” holes opened for play in 1894, Scotsman Mungo Park directed the course design and two years later it was extended to eighteen holes
There is nothing artificial about Portmarnock; it’s a natural authentic links that sits on a sand spit surrounded by water on three sides. It is everything you would want from links golf. It doesn’t scream for attention like some course. It’s more stoically dignified and self-confident in its ability to thrill without feeling the need to shout about it.
||Championship tees 7444 yds
||25th by Golf Digest
||No handicap restrictions apply
The Course itself
The course is straightforward in that fairways are wide and fair with everything is laid out in front of the player. It isn’t a trappy course, it’s honest. It lets you assess where the peril lies and then requires you make a decision accordingly. Like any fair course it’ll reward good shots, penalises the bad but very rarely gives you a bad bounce.
With two looping nines, you get to tackle the wind from all manner of directions and won’t be able to settle into a rhythm. Portmarnock requires that you can read the conditions and adjust accordingly and it this regard it is perhaps a bit like Muirfield. Indeed, not unlike Muirfield there are few holes that scream at you as being stand-out instead you just have a procession of very strong holes instead with few if any weaknesses.
The opening holes needn’t be that indistinguishable from each other but as they wend around the bay, they reveal their qualities and you are already starting to fall for the course. Bunkering is always in the right spots to create optimum playing angles. The fourth would be the pick of this initial bunch, although the opener is also good. A change of direction at the 5th brings a blind tee shot and some dunes. The first short hole at the seventh is a quality one and the ninth is a nice finish to the well routed opening holes. Another nice par 4 at ten, and then a great green site for the short twelfth.
Veterans from Surrey’s heathland courses (Sunningdale, Woburn, Walton Heath, Wentworth and Swinley) have remarked in the past how the stretch of holes that begin at the seventh and wend there way around the turn could easily fit onto the finest courses down south.
The seventh is a risk and reward hole. The choice lies on whether or not to lay up short of, or fly the bunkers from the tee. If you get your drive away well you’ve got a great chance of making birdie, but if you don’t there’s a real danger of dropping shots. The eighth is a dogleg left with no realistic prospect of biting much off. The best strategy is to hit a three wood to the corner of the fairway, which will leave you with a pitch into the green. There’s a bunker tight to the left of the green, but if you can avoid that it’s another birdie chance. The ninth requires a strategic tee-shot. So long as you avoid the tree to the left it will leave you with a line into the green, which slopes from back to front. The tenth is a par-3 to a large landing surface with a tree short of the green on the right in play, especially if the pin is tucked under it’s protection. The eleventh is another strategic hole where club selection and positioning are critical.
Legendry golf doyen Bernard Darwin once commented:
”I know of no greater finish in the world than that of the last five holes at Portmarnock”.
The fourteenth is another very good par 4, arguably the best, with a beguilingly enticing approach to thread. The par three 15th, plays along the shore and is the hole that tends to draw the most comment. Any hint of a left to right shaped tee shot will almost certainly end up on the beach, whilst the green is protected at the front by three fearsome bunkers. In the 1998 Irish Open, Ian Woosnam elected to omit the beach and went straight for the sea. Playing three off the tee, he somehow managed to find the edge of the green and holed a 40-footer for a bogey. Clearly inspired by this act of damage limitation, Woosnam went on to win the title.
Perhaps another feature is the quality and consistency of the greens. You will need your very best putting game because the greens at Portmarnock are lightning fast and true. Or in the words of Bernard Darwin: “Perhaps the outstanding beauty of Portmarnock lies in its putting greens. They are good and true, which is a merit given to many greens, and they are very fast without being untrue, which is given only to a few, and is a rare and shining virtue”.
Portmarnock has hosted a number of important events including—on 19 occasions—the Irish Open, the Canada Cup and the Walker Cup. It’s everything you could want from a golf course really, Padraig Harrington regards it as the fairest links in the world, which is quite something given that links was never really meant to be fair
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