~ ~ Portmarnock Golf Club is located six miles northeast of Dublin City on Bull Island. Regarded as the golfing equivalent of a National Heritage, it is truly the “Saint Andrews” of Irish golf. No golfing visitor to Ireland considers his or her agenda complete without a visit to Portmarnock.
Many in Ireland (and elsewhere) would consider Portmarnock the premier golf course in the country, and while I personally far prefer its near neighbour, The Island Golf Club at Donabate, it would be very hard to actually argue with this assessment.
Few golf courses anywhere in the world have been blessed with such a magnificent natural setting as Portmarnock.
It is set on a small spur of links land, with an abundance of sand and dunes, between the Irish Sea on one side, and an inland tidal bay on the other.
The course winds its way through the sand dunes, humps and hillocks, and is completely at the mercy of the wind from the nearby sea.
This can very quickly change the nature and toughness of the course.
One minute it can be a pleasant stroll in the park, and the next you can be facing a gale force wind that defies you to stay upright, never mind hit a golf ball successfully.
~ ~ The course is fairly flat in comparison to some other links, so you aren’t faced with too many blind shots, and can usually see the target you are aiming at, but this doesn’t mean that it is in any way monotonous or boring.
It has a huge variety of holes, all of which present their own unique challenge.
Some of the short holes require the touch of a butterfly and very clever strategy, while at some of the longer holes all that is needed is a “go for it” mentality and sheer brute strength.
Nowhere is this brute strength needed more than at the 6th hole, a par-5 measuring an awesome 586 yards. For most ordinary mortals, three good wood shots are required to even get a sniff of the putting surface, and if the wind happens to be in your face, then I defy even the Tiger Woods
of this world to get even
anywhere near this green in only two shots.
By way of a complete contrast, the very next hole, the short par-three 7th, with the green set into a little natural dell, requires the touch of an angel if you are to find (and stay on) the small, well bunkered green, and have any chance of walking off with your par three.
The 14th is a shortish par-4, where a good drive will leave you with only a little pitch to the green. But what a green! It is set on a long plateau surrounded on three sides by the ever-present dunes, and with some fiendishly placed bunkers protecting it. Short it may well be, but anyone walking off here with a par-4 can feel well satisfied with themselves.
I once took all of ELEVEN shots to hole out here, after getting myself in trouble in a large pot bunker at the front of the green. As I was level par for the round at the time, this particular hole has some pretty unpleasant memories for me. Beware!!!
The feature hole is the infamous and celebrated 15th. Called “Ireland’s Eye” it runs tight along the shoreline of Dublin Bay. This hole was described by Ben Crenshaw, the renowned U.S
. professional golfer and past Ryder Cup Captain as “one of the greatest short holes on earth”.
Depending on the wind direction, you may well find yourself having to start your tee shot off towards the beach and over the out-of-bounds line, and do your level best to bring it back on the wind.
The last two holes are crackers. The 17th is a penal par-4, where you will do very well if you manage to stay out of its many sand bunkers.
The 18th is another fine par-4, which has lost a little of its attraction in recent years since the greens committee decided to move the green from its old position, which was quite literally tight to the clubhouse. In the old days, many a golfer found themselves visiting the old clubhouse a little earlier than they expected, as an over hit approach shot was almost certain to clatter into the precincts of the old building.
~ ~ Portmarnock has played host to many major golf championships. The inaugural Irish Open was played here in 1927, long before the days of corporate sponsorship, the members paying the prize money from their own resources. Such was the ferocity of the weather, gale force winds and driving rain, that the winner, George Duncan, lined his body with brown paper as insulation. He earned the princely sum of £160 for his efforts!
The British Amateur Championship was played here in 1949, and it played host to the Irish Open for many years during the 1980’s. In more recent times the Walker Cup match of 1991 between the U.S.A. and Gt. Britain and Ireland was also played here, with the celebrated American professional Phil Mickelson making one of his last ever amateur appearances.
~ ~ The clubhouse dates back many years, but is very comfortable, with good changing and shower facilities.
On the gable end of the clubhouse hangs the “Ship’s Bell”. Presented to the club by the then captain, Mr. Weatherall, in 1909, it was in use until 1922. It announced the departure of the last boat back to the mainland, as access to the course at that time was only by boat across the estuary, or at low tide, by pony and trap.
There is an excellent professional’s shop, run by the amiable Irish professional Joey Purcell, where you can buy any and all your golfing requisites, and hire clubs and carts for your round if required. Professional caddies are also available, at a cost of about €40 per round. (plus tip!)
Food is available at anytime from 10.30AM to 11PM, and you can opt for a full lunch or dinner, or settle for some simple bar snacks
Be sure and take along a jacket and tie though if you want to use the clubhouse facilities at all! Portmarnock fits very firmly into the “old school” bracket of golf clubs, and make no concessions to modern times when it comes to dress code.
~ ~ Here’s a little amusing story for you.
A few years ago Michael Parkinson, the TV chat host, was playing a round here with his wife Mary, herself a well-known journalist. At the end of the round they adjourned to the bar, only to be approached by a very well dressed gentleman, who informed Mary that “ladies” were not permitted in that particular section of the clubhouse. In very high dungeon, she was obliged to leave, and retorted to her husband Michael, “Who the hell does he think he is, in this day and age, the bloody Captain or what!!”
To which Michael replied, “No love. But he IS the President of the whole damned country!”
The “gentleman” was none other than the past President of Ireland, Dr. P.J. Hillery, a long time member of Portmarnock and an avid golfer.
~ ~ Despite its pedigree, surprisingly enough Portmarnock is not all that expensive to play, at a cost of €125 per round during the week, and €160 at the weekends. You MUST be prepared to book ahead however, as you would be very lucky indeed if you managed to get a round if you simply rolled up unannounced.
And visitors must also produce a handicap certificate from their home club to show the have the required level of golfing prowess to be let loose on its hallowed turf.
This course is an absolute must for anyone visiting Ireland on a golfing trip, and shouldn’t be missed, despite its somewhat dated and antiquated traditions.
Club Secretary: Mr. J. Quigley
Telephone: 01-846-2968 (from UK
Fax: 01-846-2601 (from UK 353-1-846-2601)
Cost per Round
There are strict tee times allotted for visitors, and these can be checked out by visiting the club’s website (link given below)
Reservations can also be made online here at the website.
Professional: Joey Purcell
Telephone: 01-846-2634 (from UK 353-1-846-2634)