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III: Royal Dublin 

I think about linksland a lot- probably much more than would be seen as healthy. The magical strip of land which connects the sea with traditional farmland - sandy, rumpled turf dotted with dunes and unique landforms, the perfect sites for golf. At the beginning of the game, links golf was the only form, these wonderful sites designated for golf as they were deemed inadequate for farming. Today links courses remain as the soul of the game.

A 10 hour flight becomes a hell of a lot more comfortable when you’re headed to Ireland, clubs in tow, for some of the best golf on the planet. Boasting 58 ‘true’ links courses of the 247 worldwide, the island of Ireland is one of golf’s meccas and became the obvious choice for the first stopover of the second leg of the trip.

Royal Dublin's iconic clubhouse & Poolbeg Towers

When I think of Irish links, my mind leaps to towering dunes, wild landscapes and howling wind whipping off the sea – on this day, Royal Dublin was a step outside all of the stereotypes. The drive into the low-lying linksland of Royal Dublin is one of the more interesting of any course I have encountered – a 400 metre single lane wooden bridge connects the mainland to Bull Island, home of the links.

 

This manmade island is Dublin’s only UNESCO protected biosphere, presenting a gorgeous environment for golf. Making the one of a kind entrance with the iconic clubhouse and linksland coming into view and the 207 metre tall Poolbeg towers looming in the distance, provides Royal Dublin with a unique sense of place and builds anticipation for an extremely special location for golf.

Bull Island's proper linksland

At first glance, Royal Dublin appears a more Scottish than Irish links- perhaps a lazy comparison based on the ‘out and back’ routing, the flatter nature of the property and smaller scale of the landforms. Although there is a lack of elevation change, the layout is far from flat with fairways rippled and tumbling with perfect randomness – these sandy micro-undulations present an ideal surface for golf, each bounce of the ball at the mercy of the golfing gods.

On a beautiful May evening- worlds away from the brutal conditions we expected, with a distinctly linksy puff of sand from a well struck iron, our linksland journey was off and running!

The front nine meanders out to the furthest point of the course, a couple of early highlights include the semi-blind tee shot on the 3rd, and the 5th and 6th holes threaded through valleys between the sand hills. On the way out, the 8th green complex is truly remarkable, with a towering drop-off on the left side demanding a precise approach.

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Large slopes & CDP's restored bunkering provides plenty of challenge around the greens

Strolling deeper into the round, Royal Dublin struck me as a place which probably gets taken lightly by visitors, however we quickly learned that despite the absence of elevation change, the course is far from defenceless. On more than one occasion we hit tee balls which seemed grand, only to find them 3 yards off the fairway in shin deep rough – make no mistake, the fairways here are narrow and the rough brutal! Deep pot bunkers (recently renovated back to Harry Colt’s original plans by CDP) and dramatically undulated green surrounds work hand in hand to guard the pin – like any links course worth its salt, angles are king and Royal Dublin is a stern championship test!

The meandering burn protecting the 18th green

What will stay with me forever at Royal Dublin is the closing three-hole stretch – it’s hard to imagine how many good rounds have been ruined and scorecards torn up on these holes. The 16th hole, perhaps my favourite of the day, is a tempting driveable par 4 surrounded by bunkers- danger lurking on all sides. The tee shot on 17 is the most dangerous of the day, the right hand side which provides the best angle of approach is hugged by a burn, and the green site provides absolutely no room for error- I quickly figured out that long was not the place to be with the biggest drop-off of the day!

 

Visually, the 18th hole is one of the most confusing I have come across- a severe dogleg right with an internal out of bounds and a drain running up the entire right hand side. I’m not sure how many times I’ve hit a ball into the same hazard twice 170 yards apart…. There’s plenty of strategy to the final hole- too much for me on this occasion!

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The rare Irish sunset over Royal Dublin's clubhouse

Walking down the last fairway towards the clubhouse as the sun went down and shadows grew, our evening at Royal Dublin had been the perfect start to exploring the links. The course is loaded with strategy, excellent green complexes and plenty of challenge. Royal Dublin is a special place which knows exactly what it is- a no frills, honest links golf layout.

With the appetite perfectly whet for links golf, we hang around Dublin for another couple of days, eyes cast on a course we have driven by a handful of times already!

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