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A Trip to Ireland — Day Two: Portmarnock and The Island Club

Portmarnock - 18th hole

Portmarnock – 18th hole

Rather than write about why Michelle Wie shouldn’t be playing this week, I’ve decided to revisit my 2005 trip to Ireland — a precursor to the Ryder Cup that was supposed to be written for the National Post. It never happened, largely because of a switch in travel editors. Oh well — I can do a better job in more detail here.

So here it goes anyway — a trip to Ireland leaving on a Friday night and returning the following Saturday. It involved three good friends — Fairway Stevie Waxman, golf architect Ian Andrew, and his father, Gerry. I’ll follow this one with a piece about my 2006 trip to Scotland later in the month.

Day Two: There’s something remarkable about sleeping for nine hours after spending 40 hours awake. It was with a fresh and excited outlook that our group took to short trip from our hotel up the coastline and onto the slight peninsula of land that encompasses Ireland’s famed Portmarnock Golf Club, one of the country’s most famous and toughest tests.

Portmarnock is Ireland’s answer to Carnoustie. It is relatively flat, the sea is only present on a couple of holes, and it is tough as nails. It does have some more aesthetic appeal than Carnoustie, but aside from that the clubs are quite comparable.

Which also means Portmarnock is all-world. Set amongst a group of[photopress:Portmaronack_15th_1.jpg,full,alignright] smallish dunes, and playing in and out of thick fescue (which apparently can eat small children), Portmarnock is a relatively unrelenting test, right down the to terrific 18th, a long par four with a green situated directly behind the delightful clubhouse.

Like Carnoustie, golfers are occasionally given the impression that Portmarnock is too unrelenting. It starts (the Red and Blue nines are considered the championship course) with a nasty long par four with a harbor situated along the right. That is followed by some of more intriguing and difficult golf one might ever face.

The course saves some of the best for last, especially the closing holes. This led legendary golf writer Bernard Darwin to comment: “I know of no greater finish in the world than that of the last five holes at Portmarnock¦.” That may be the case. Certainly everything from the 13th, a 549-yard par five that features numerous bunkers and fescue, through to the fascinating 445-yard 17th (as well as the previously mentioned closing hole) is every bit the equal of any difficult golf course in the world.

But difficulty isn’t the only thing Portmarnock has going for it. The entire club, from its location to its course to its clubhouse, has charm and an appeal that probably wins over every visitor, even those left shaking their heads after being brutilized on the links.

The Island - 8th hole

The Island – 8th hole

That said, our group, slightly savaged but not broken, grabbed lunch in the clubhouse and made a circuitous trip to The Island Club. Once you paddled across the bay to The Island Club; after navigating to it by car, I wonder if this still wouldn’t be easier.

Designed by Tom Morris, The Island is weird, strange and wonderful all at the same time. After all, it can be brawny, like the difficult 407 yard 12th. It can also be downright strange — like the blind 278-yard 8th with its bowl green set among small jutting dunes.

But at its best, The Island is as good a links experience as you’ll find[photopress:Island_13G_1.jpg,full,alignright] anywhere. The peak of the course can be found in the 13th hole, a majestic par three with a green perched high above the bay. Watery death looms large for those that can’t strike a crisp iron 210 yards into the wind (thankfully it was one of the few shots I pulled off that afternoon.) Like Portrush’s famous 14th — the aptly named Calamity — the 13th at the Island is an all-or-nothing venture that is tremendously fun.

Of course, it is followed by one of the world’s strangest holes — the 318-yard par four 14th that sports a fairway that, at its narrowest (and with water on the right) is no more than 10 paces wide. It is hard to say where the merits rest with the hole — it has risk/reward potential for those with big enough balls — or a small enough brain — to try for the green. And I guess those golfers who can thread a neddle with a 4-iron need not worry; the rest of us, however, will likely make double bogey.

Regardless, The Island is truly Old World golf, right there with the likes of Crail in Scotland. Yes, it’ll be strange in places. But you are going to enjoy it if you have even the slightest of adventure in your soul.

The Details:

Portmarnock Golf Club

Euro 165.00 – per person per round – Monday – Friday
Euro 190.00 – per person per round – Weekends and Public Holidays.
The Island

Green Fees 01 May – 30 Oct 07:
Midweek/Weekend ‚¬125.00
Early Bird Rate:
07:30 to 08:30 Mon, Tues, Weds, Fri ‚¬85.00
07:30 to 08:30 Thurs (May and Sept) ‚¬85.00

Tomorrow: Day Three — The K Club

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • RT:

    Driving the green on The Island’s 14th hole was a highlight of my Ireland golf tour recently…and making the 15 footer for eagle was icing on the cake. The Island Course is indeed a treat, especially the back nine.

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