First opened for public play in 1971, the links course at Donabate lies along the east coast of Ireland, next to a more well-known golfing neighbour, The Island. Owned by Fingal County Council, it’s a pay and play facility that’s maintained and operated by Carr Golf, who also manage Castleknock for the same local authority.
The course itself is over a hundred years old, with the original holes set out in 1906 by employees of nearby Portrane Hospital. This layout was expanded to a full 18-hole course after Donabate Golf Club was established in 1928 but the club relocated to its present location in 1939, leaving behind a group of golfers who preferred their golf to be of the links variety.
Corballis Golf Club was then founded and it functioned up until 1968, when land was acquired near Swords and the club reformed as Forrest Little Golf Club. Its old 86-acre site was sold for £95,000 to Dublin County Council in 1971, which saw the formation of Dublin & County Golf Club but it too moved away from Corballis to become near neighbours at what is now Balcarrick Golf Club.
The County Council redesigned the layout in 1979/80, removing some of the blind holes and the course was closed for two years as new tees and greens were introduced. Fingal County Council then took over ownership of the property in 1994 and ten years later, Corballis Links Golf Club was founded. Ron Kirby from Bates Golf Design Group was called in soon after to upgrade the layout.
Old holes 4, 13, 14 and 15 were lost, replaced by new ones along the coastline at holes 4 to 7, so that the course is now laid out with five short par fours, seven par threes and only one par five – with that rather unique configuration, it’s no surprise to learn that the course plays to its par of 66 over the short distance of 5,114 yards.
There’s still a fair smattering of old-fashioned golf design here amongst the dunes, with several narrow fairways crossing over each other and blind tee shots to be played, but there’s no denying either the quality of the greens on this track or the fabulous views out across the Irish Sea to nearby Lambay Island.
Highlight holes include the longest par four on the card at the right doglegged 3rd, where the fairway runs along a valley between dunes, the new par three 6th and its two-tiered green, the doglegged par five 12th, with out of bounds running along its right flank, and the par four 14th, which is played along the beach from tee to the green.
If truth be told I only played Corballis because a good mate was a member there and he bullied me into it. I was on a rare weekend escape and my preference was to fritter away my hard earned euros at one of the impressively expensive shamrock-bait tracks that are so adept at taking a golfing tourist’s cash. I would then impress all my American golfing colleagues who think they’re Irish.
Corballis may not impress them much, but it did hit some sweet spots for me. Firstly, it’s proper links golf (which always earns bonus points). Box ticked. Secondly, it’s rife with blind shots, elevation changes, coastal views, and no small challenge with its narrow fairways, uneven lies, and dangerous rough. Not all links have all this. A few more boxes ticked. Furthermore, it’s not too long (admittedly due to a small property) and was inexpensive (it was tempting to ask the Pro if I could pay 2-3 times more so that I could feel comfortable in the knowledge I was getting a premium golf experience). So more boxes ticked. Finally, the greens ran incredibly true. For a quick & dirty municipal, this was a pleasant surprise. Highlights included the run of holes from 3 to 7 which explored some of the prime real estate, and several of the Par 3’s - holes such as 6 & 13 are simply excellent. Also a couple of Par 4’s on the back 9 stick in my mind.
Of course not everything is fabulous at Corballis and there is a reason why it’s currently ranked 97th in Ireland. Holes 8 & particularly 9 were low points and out of kilter with what had gone before. The out and back 15 & 16 also felt tagged on (I think that’s because they were in fact, tagged on). This leaves in my mind 14 worthy holes to enjoy. Occasionally 1 or 2 of these (on the inland side) feel hemmed in by an occasional unsightly boundary fence, with these limitations being due to the size of the property. Others may call for more fairway bunkering (not me though). The Island next door had clearly eaten up the lions share of better links land, but some tasty leftovers remained. It all makes me think that Corballis could have been a world class 9 holer. Or it could get a Tom Watson quote and then market itself as the best 13 hole course in Ireland.
I would recommend pairing Corballis up with The Island for a great day of golf, and playing Corballis first. For many visitors, it may offer a great first taste of Links golf in a humble inclusive setting. And if you’ve just crawled off of a long transatlantic flight, why waste an expensive green fee at a more famous track when you’re still half asleep? I actually did something similar with a group a few years ago when playing Braid Hills in Edinburgh, before heading out to East Lothian. We were exhausted after our flight from Amsterdam and it worked a treat. And when I visit the Monterey Peninsula, despite life being short, I will also play Pacific Grove. This feels like some kind of Golfing Scouting Code.
Back to Donabate: We visited Corballis the day before (or after) playing Killeen Castle. One is a Jack Nicklaus championship test that has hosted the Solheim Cup. And the other is quite simply a fun, memorable & good value experience (that I’d rather play). Don’t discount golf at Corballis just because Corballis is discounted golf. I do still wish my mate would join Portmarnock though
Corballis Links is a real head-spinner of a golf course around a 30 minute drive north of Dublin.
I make no apology for absolutely loving golf courses like Corballis. It is small in stature but packs an amazing amount of mind-blowing golf into its par 66, 4,624-metre layout which is played over a wild landscape and where fun abounds.
Another beauty of this municipal course is that at a paltry €20 it is a fantastic golf trip budget “averager”. In my opinion any golf itinerary to Dublin should include Corballis but not just for the dollar it saves you but for the quality, quirk and at times jaw-dropping golf it serves up.
For those well travelled, it has similar attributes to Perranporth in Cornwall and the middle section of the links at Strandhill on the west coast of Ireland. We can spy tops of flags fluttering on the summit of dunes and marker posts dotted all over the heaving linksland. The bamboozling nature of Corballis is remarkable.
There is a lawlessness to some of the opening holes. At times they may just be a touch unfair, occasionally unsafe but most certainly unique and unorthodox. This begins at the short opener where we must fire across the 12th fairway to a large, raised plateau green.
There is undoubtedly a game of smoke and mirrors going on through the first seven holes at Corballis.
There is also a wonderful collection of short holes here and we enjoy three of them in the opening third of the round. The 1st hole is nothing too special but the 4th and the 6th in particular are little worldies. Both are played downhill to raised green complexes set among the dunes with predominantly crowned putting surfaces. They just fit the landscape so well and are prime examples that length is not always required to produce a taxing and quality golf hole.
The final short hole on the front side is the ninth which doesn’t have the same appeal and looks completely out of place with the rest of the course, played over a large pond, to a flat green of modern design. The other issue with this hole is that it precedes another short hole, which is better but still average at best, and it comes in the middle of a run of holes between 8 and 10 which is a very weak stretch of the course; the ninth is the low point.
However, we can easily forgive Corballis this momentary lull because it recovers well and if it doesn’t quite reach the highs of the first seven holes there is plenty of interesting golf yet to play.
There is one last fling with absurdity at Corballis and that is the 17th green. An insane par-three played to a wild, semi-volcanic putting surface with two-tiers but played to side on. It is as if the designer wanted to create a wild, controversial green, a bit nutty, which would already have been fiendish to play to but then he has moved the tee 90-degrees and we now play to it from an outrageous angle…. but it kind of works! It’s the sort of fascinating hole where you’d just love to drop a basket of balls and play it a hundred times with different types of shots and clubs in various winds.
Today, Corballis provides a marvellous mish-mash of golf holes, some real head-scratchers and I felt guilty only paying €20 for a round here.
There are some things many golfers will not like. It is cramped (the protective netting we see a few times is an eyesore) and there are several occasions when you may not get what you feel you deserve. A lot of guesswork is required to get around the course but nice surprises often lie in store.
However, if you enjoy playing golf courses that push the boundaries of quirk whilst still retaining real quality then you will fall in love with Corballis. There is no arguments from me that at times it comes perilously close to crossing the line but I would rather have it that way than have my golf served up mundane and predictable.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Corballis is a gem hidden away between the Island and Balcarrick golf clubs and is an absolute pleasure to play!! Every hole needs to be approached with a strategy or you will find yourself in deep deep trouble!! Play like a typical links course with blind tee shots drivable par 4’s (if you dare) and fast undulating greens which require accuracy or you could end up with a 3 or even 4 putt!! The par 3’s on this course are particularly special with elevated tees, attackable greens and heartbreaking rough should you veer off even slightly. Will most definitely be back to test myself here again
€25 to play this gem of a course is the best value I have come across. Yes it's quirky, yes it has some blind shots but it has one of the prettiest par 3s I have ever played (6th hole), which plays a wedge downhill, to a green surrounded by dunes on 3 sides with a glimpse of the sea in the background), and the par 4, 3rd hole (460 yards), which would not look out of place on a marquee links course. As it's a short course, you can get round in under 3 hours comfortably so please tag it on to a round at its neighbour, the excellent The Island course. Both courses boast impressive dunes and links land.
In the shadow of The Island and with Portmarnock nearby Corballis is unsurprisingly overlooked and sometimes ignored by the more serious golfers. Its a bit of a shame really because although its no where near the quality of those courses Corballis, for the price, is a cracking course.
Some of the holes from the front nine running along the coast are a real joy to play and has that classic rugged links feel to it.
I played this in the summer months of 2018, where the weather was calm and the course was relatively busy. I would happily go back and play it in tougher conditions and experince the course in a different light....
Corballis is something of a love it or hate it course - I am in the love it camp. This is a short course and breaks plenty of the 'rules' with regard to par and length, but if you can leave that baggage behind, and just take this course for what it is you will have a great time. It's a municipal course, so facilities / distance markers etc are limited. It's no harm playing this with someone who knows it first as there are some blind shots and hard to pick the best route to the hole sometimes. However, it's this variety which is the appeal here. Quite a few of the holes have no 'best' way of playing it and may well depend on the wind on the day. This is proper links, and its the same terrain as the Island next door, just shorter and quirkier (people might think it's not 'fair' in places). You can leave driver in the bag for all but 7 holes, but this course rewards shotmaking and creativity. Embrace the fun!