Much is made of visits to the Emerald Isle and for good reason. Such desires include having an array of fine food and drink locations, non-golf attractions — perish the thought but one cannot live on golf alone — and just a sense of being connected to the outside world at your immediate doorstep. How glorious it is to have such a linkage but still having the wherewithal to shut everything out as soon as the tee peg breaks the surface of the ground and the game commences. A truly meaningful visit to Ireland must always include the capital city. The range of activities in the downtown core never lacks for a dull moment — the Dublin pub crawl is clearly something any devotee for bending the elbow will need to schedule.
One of the best locations to use as your base of operations is centering yourself in the seaside community of Malahide. Located just minutes from the Dublin International Airport — Malahide has enough cache to hold its own but it ideally provides a very close proximity for several of the key area courses for the golf aficionado.
No question — it helps to schedule a bit of time to visit Ireland‘s largest city. Dublin is concentrated rather nicely with a center core area so if you wish to avoid taking the car you can easily access public transportation — given the crush for parking spaces it’s often the wisest option to follow.
The evolution of Dublin has gone through several stages. The investment from local and international sources has clearly raised the profile and while Dublin doesn’t have the international pedigree of London – it does have less of the least desirable elements found with the UK’s largest city — namely ruthlessly insane congestion and insanely high prices literally across the board.
Irish hospitality is well known internationally and rightly touted. The golf offerings reviewed below are generally amendable to visits provided you contact them sufficiently prior to any planned visit. In sum – Dublin never disappoints and truly delivers for the visitor seeking the total experience.
PORTMARNOCK GOLF CLUB
Red & Blue Championship Nines Reviewed
7,466 Yards / Par-72
Course Rating: 76
Without question — the premier tournament layout in the immediate core Dublin area. A few years back the storied 27-hole layout went through an internal re-examination. How to improve an iconic course that was growing tired — turf conditions being mediocre and the celebration of the past was more of the emphasis than the planning of the future.
The good news to report from my latest visit to Portmarnock is the layout been majestically rejuvenated and is once again providing the golf experience so ably done for many years. The level of detailing is clearly evident when playing the course now. Green cuts are precise and the course has been free from internal trees and other debris that took away from the experience. Among all the links courses you can play in Ireland — Portmarnock is the fairest test in rewarding shots accordingly and penalizing those that are not. www.portmarnockgolfclub.ie
THE ROYAL DUBLIN GOLF CLUB
7,297 Yards / Par-72
Course Rating: 76
Going to Royal Dublin involves taking a narrow access road whisking you away from an industrial park and transports you to Bull Island – a tiny sliver of land fronting the Irish Sea yet just a very short drive from city center. Royal Dublin is a straightforward links layout dating back to 1935 with the fingerprints of the legendary architect Harry S. Colt on its design.
Royal Dublin follows a predictable links routing — the holes literally go out until you reach the furthest point of the property and then make a bee-line back in the opposite fashion. The outward bound holes usually find a prevailing helping breeze and players will need to score low because the inward side can mean a relentless headwind that will shake all but the soundest of swings. The par-4 10th, 13th and 17th each play extremely long when the wind is blowing into the player and are solid holes even with no wind.
The finishing hole is quite strange — a dog-leg right protected by OB with the putting surface on the far side — there’s no need to hit driver and have your tee ball encounter an increasingly narrow drive zone. Be sure to tour the clubhouse and take in the history and accomplishments of the golfers who have strode these grounds. www.theroyaldublingolfclub.com
THE ISLAND GOLF CLUB
6,902 Yards / Par-71
Course Rating: 73
To appreciate a true links one must have the good fortune in having turf prepared to provide the ideal mix of firm and fast conditions. The challenge is not easy to attain but when such a happening occurs — golf magic is in the air. The Island — originally named because it required a boat passage to get to the course which ended in 1973 — has strived to do all that it can in terms of course presentation and design heft.
No question the lengthy shadow of neighbor Portmarnock can be a long one — but The Island provides a quality test that mixes and matches a stunning collection of diverse holes. Easily, a clear contender for one of Ireland’s top ten golf layouts. www.theislandgolfclub.com.
PORTMARNOCK HOTEL & GOLF LINKS
7,047 Yards / Par-71
Course Rating: 74
Opened in 1995 and adjacent to its namesake big brother — Portmarnock Links is a good layout that only gets better the deeper the round progresses. The outward half is fairly dull but from the moment you arrive at the par-4 7th the design elements rise noticeably.
The inner half of holes works you closer to the ocean and the intersection of mound and bunkers is always there to keep you guessing on just how much one dares to tackle these constant elements. The final quartet of holes caps the round in grand style and brings you home in stellar fashion. www.portmarnock.com
THE EUROPEAN CLUB
20-Holes (Main 18 plus two extra par-3 holes added)
7,355 Yards / Par-71 (*can be stretched to 7,728 for those in need of traction!)
Course Rating: 76
Opened in 1992 and located roughly an hour south of Dublin the brainchild of The European Club is Pat Ruddy. Designer of many courses throughout Ireland, Ruddy scoped out land along Brittas Bay and decided to both design and own his own links layout. Part of the fun in playing The European Club is having an audience with Ruddy. The affable gent is always quick with the verbal quip — with an array of Irish puns and jokes that could easily fill an encyclopedia. Be sure to have a tape recorder on hand because the stand-up show is one of a kind.
The European Club is no doubt in the conversation as Ireland’s most difficult layout. The passageways from the tip tees get especially narrow and the rough areas for any stray shots can often mean a quick “re-load.” Candidly, The European Club would be better served in following a “less is more” design approach. There are holes that follow that maxim — the superb par-4 17th is one clear example. Ruddy added two par-3 holes as extras into the mix and when the weather cooperates — far from a certainty — the intersection of land and water is memorable. Only real downer — the concluding holes on each side follows the same pattern as long par-4’s. Good holes — but not uniquely different. www.theeuropeanclub.com
COUNTY LOUTH / BALTRAY
7,031 Yards / Par-72
Course Rating: 74
Founded 1892 — with the present layout carried out by Tom Simpson in 1938 – the man responsible for The Old Course at Ballybunion — the 190-acre site provides two-nine-hole loops. Wind direction always varies from moment to moment as you track your way around the links. One of the main strengths of the course is that it provides for constant change of direction of the holes — the routing is not the garden variety of going out in a line for number of holes and backtracking the reverse direction.
County Louth is well respected by locals but often is under-appreciated and sometimes not even played by visitors — don’t make that mistake when visiting. The course has few dull moments and when the dunes are encountered as one nears the Irish Sea be sure to execute with the surest of strokes. The challenges presented reward fine shots but like an honest judge – no bribes or short cuts are permitted. Additionally, some of the finest green contours can be found at County Louth. www.countylouthgolfclub.com.
WHERE TO STAY
Located just minutes from Royal Dublin — Clontarf Castle provides a stunning setting. The service is always attentive to the smallest of details and the rooms provided are varied in terms of sizes but all are very comfortable. www.clontarfcastle.ie
The Grand Hotel, Malahide
Ideally situated for quick and easy access to several different key courses. Just a short stroll to all the key attractions within Malahide itself. Staff is most attentive and food offerings are good. The only small thing of note came during my most recent visit a summer heat wave with temps in the high 70’s. The rooms do not have air-conditioning — not unusual in Ireland — but there are also no ceiling fans which would have been a plus. www.thegrand.ie
The Marker Hotel / Dubin
Any visit to Dublin should include a bit of time in the regenerated Dublin Docklands. Staying at The Marker gives you the ideal location to sample the qualities of a first rate lodging location in tandem with a wide range of fascinating alternatives all within an easy walking distance. The Marker is far from staid — a real bounce and beat is clearly apparent the moment you arrive. The rooftop bar is a must for those who want to mingle and take in the view it provides. www.themarkerhoteldublin.com
WHAT TO DO BEYOND GOLF
Parts of the property date back to the 12th century. The 260-acres is a short walk from just about any location in Malahide and is worth checking out. Reorganized in the last few years the total presentation provides a coordinated effort to showcase the castle, the gardens and its connection to Malahide. www.malahidecastleandgardens.ie
National Museum of Ireland
The ultimate location to know all that is Ireland — encompassing the history, cultural and natural history. The museum has three different locations within Dublin and admission is free. www.museum.ie
Dublin’s and Ireland’s most visited attraction. Be sure to stop by the Gravity Bar for the perfect vistas. www.guinness-storehouse.com
WHERE TO EAT
The Greedy Goose in Malahide
Aqua in Houth
At the very end of Houth’s West Pier, Aqua is a top tier restaurant that understands the linkage between first rate service and superior food offerings. Great views of the sea with vistas of Ireland’s Eye make the time spent even more noteworthy. A perfect compliment to finishing off a day after the golf is concluded. www.aqua.ie