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IV: Portmarnock Golf Club

For three days we couldn’t leave the Airbnb without catching glimpses of Portmarnock Golf Club; dunes, sand, and sea- picture perfect linksland suspended above the Irish sea on its own Peninsula which was initially reachable only by boat. Without seeing a single golf hole, it was pretty clear that the golf we could see across the harbour was special.

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The links of Portmarnock Golf Club

Opening for play in 1894 and drenched in history, Portmarnock sits in a rare echelon of golf clubs around the world. A stroll through the iconic clubhouse and a peruse of the honours boards, trophies and memorabilia was a true eye opener as to the hallowed grounds we found ourselves on- sometimes it’s easy to take it for granted just how special places like Portmarnock truly are, but there’s magic around every corner.

Traditionally, opening holes are slightly gentle affairs- a bit of a loosener to get you away without too much issue. With its first hole, a 380 metre par 4 playing flush up against the sea, Portmarnock subscribes to a completely different school of thought, smacking you in the face with one of the most incredible, stunning and testing starting holes in the world of golf. Nothing gets the heart rate up like the opportunity to slice a ball into the ocean off the first tee, but with two balls in play the boys were off to the races!

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Small targets & a championship test

The Championship course is routed in two loops of nine holes which return to the clubhouse- an unusual feature for a traditional links of its age. This is a key ingredient for making the layout so compelling, allowing holes to criss-cross and change direction, threaded between and playing over the top of dunes. This not only added to the intrigue, but the challenge- never allowing us to quite get a feel for the wind direction and strength.

 

The land is stunningly classic linksland; a random assortment of crumpled bumps and hollows mixed amongst areas of larger dune ridges makes for a sensational variety of challenges throughout the round.  As with most of the top echelon of links courses, this land movement is what defines the golf hole and is the greatest defence of the flag.

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After the first few holes, it became pretty clear that Portmarnock’s turf was of a rare quality. In mid-May fairways were firm and bouncy and the green surrounds tight and fast – these conditions maximised the impact of the land movement and watching balls roll over mounds and down slopes is one of the treasures of Portmarnock. The turf here is not only beautiful to look at, but perfectly complements the layout.

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Steep drop-offs and penal bunkering are a frequent test

It would be fair to say that the boys found the front nine fairly tough sledding- Portmarnock can be a brutal place to try to learn to play links golf. Fairways are narrow with juicy rough swallowing golf balls both sides and it felt as though every greenside slope would kick the ball away from the hole.

 

The greensites feel natural and the sloping surrounds often dramatically push greens up. This is the brilliance and subtlety of the layout, every hole has an ideal angle to play from, any other requires a perfect shot to stay on the green, making for plenty of intriguing and outright difficult approaches. The 10th is the first greensite that springs to mind regarding angles, its long, skinny green falls away on all sides meaning only approaches from the perfect spot held the green!

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The gorgeous 15th flush up against the sea

The fifth hole, aptly named Himalayas, was one which I could play over and over again- one of my favourite holes in the world! A blind tee ball over a couple of dunes to a lower valley is one of the treasures of links golf, leaving an approach to a subtle green with a perfectly placed mound short right.

The par 3 15th is the postcard hole pressed up against the Irish sea and it could quite easily be the most beautiful double bogey of the trip….

I found Portmarnock to be an extremely enjoyable links, asking subtle questions and absolutely loaded with strategy tee to green. A classic links, which looks exactly as I dreamed of links golf, which would likely only grow in stature across multiple plays, presenting the opportunity to peel back the layers of the routing. The course feels perfectly connected, the beautifully paced layout provides a stout test which demands the proper shot, punishing wayward swings and thoughtless golf. The course isn’t tricked up or quirky and outside a couple of blind tee shots, the holes are right there in front of you.

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The final approach into the 18th green

A proper world class links is hard to beat, and today was an eye opener early on in the trip as to just how great it can be!

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