The Murvagh peninsula jutting out into Donegal Bay is the home of Donegal Golf Club. It’s an enchanting and isolated setting for a big links course. The panoramic view across the bay is sensational, with the Bluestack Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop.
The prolific architect, Eddie Hackett, laid out the course in 1973 and Murvagh is considered to be one of his finest creations. Hackett was given a naturally rugged and crumpled piece of links land to play with and he used it well to produce a monster championship-length layout. Thanks to Pat Ruddy, Donegal now measures a mighty 7,200 yards from the back tees and we recommend that they be left well alone for the pros or for the very low single figure handicappers.
Donegal’s layout is configured in two elongated loops of nine holes. The front nine runs anticlockwise and the back nine runs clockwise, sitting inside the outward nine. The first four holes are fairly ordinary, feeling inland in character, and then at the 185-yard par three 5th, we enter dune country. This one shot hole, called “Valley of Tears”, is a brute. A semi-blind tee shot to a narrow plateau green, we must make sure that we select the right club to traverse the valley and the bunkers in front of and below the raised green. The next three holes are stunning where the fairways rollercoaster up and down, flanked by huge shaggy sand dunes. At the turn, we are faced with a thrilling back nine, including the 12th, a monster par five, and the sadistic par three 16th, measuring nigh on 250 yards from the back tees.
There is no doubt that Donegal at Murvagh is a very challenging links course and it should be up at the top of the must-play list for any serious golfer.
Around 1992, Pat Ruddy was commissioned to update the original Eddie Hackett-designed layout here at Donegal Golf Club and the work spanned a number of years. Pat has kindly provided the following update for us:
"Hole 1… a totally new green running across the inward shot rather than with it. This to lay a premium on the club chosen coming in (good to do at a par-5)... and then I sculpted a front bunker into a dip at mid-point with pin levels left and right sweeping down into it.
Hole 2… new fairway bunkers at left pinch the tee-shot a little and bring the natural out-of-bounds on the right into play for those seeking to get closer to the green. The green itself is totally new… raised by 2-feet or so at the front and 5-feet or so at the back thus allowing for deep bunkering front and sides. The green is angled right to left to reward those who take-on the boundary off the tee.
Hole 4… totally new tees, fairway with bunkers and a new green running left to right with bunkering at front right. All arranged to give strong golf images off the tee, the old set up was a wee bit blind, and it is a vastly improved hole.
Hole 5… new tees to add length and offer differing angles on a classical par-3 to a shelf green.
Hole 12… a new green with stronger bunkering; newly conformed fairway with strong bunkering for the tee-shot; and the approach to the green rumpled and bunkered.
Hole 14… bunkering for the tee shot and fairway elevation changes to slow the drive, a lovely (if I say so myself) meandering stream brought into play in horse-shoe shape in front of the green (inviting golfers to gamble into the horseshoe if they really think that one club less for the third is all-important at this par-5 and a totally new green raised, tiered and bunkered.
Hole 16… bunkered the green at this par-3.
That makes 11 holes heavily revised, refurbished and modernised. It is a remarkably different and better links than before but the analysts seem slow to realise what has happened as the club is not of the boastful type and hasn't broadcast the good news as others might. It was already one of Ireland’s finest but now I feel it is into a brave new place and I fancy that Eddie Hackett would be pleased enough with his co-designer!"
At the start of 2017, Pat Ruddy sent this:
At Donegal, the 17th has been modified and revisions made to the par three 16th, which was a very difficult hole for club players with a minimum measurement of 203 metres. The championship tee remains intact but new member tees have been constructed forward and to the right (to give a lovely new angle) at 160, 165 and 170 metres, with a new greenside bunker on the left balancing the removal of force with a little intrigue and skill.
Although not quite as dramatic as some of the other big name links courses in Ireland, Donegal is a very fine layout indeed. This is one of the longest courses you will find anywhere and although the men have four different coloured tees to choose from, the shortest (green) still add up to almost 6,500 yards. The course covers a large acreage so the fairways are generally quite wide but when we visited in August anything wayward could easily find some fairly thick, ball losing rough. After a steady start on flattish ground the course really comes to life on the brilliant par-3 5th hole. Nestled amongst dunes and surrounded by bunkers, you simply cannot afford to miss the plateau green short or right. Remember to walk up to the raised back tee on the 6th as the panoramic view of Donegal Bay is well worth the effort. I would agree with other reviewers that the most memorable holes lie on the crumpled land between the 5th and 8th. The 7th hole involves a downhill approach to a green situated on a lower level and the 8th is great fun, although maybe a little quirky as it moves up, down and the around the large dunes and mounds. The back nine returns to the mainly flatter ground but there are still plenty of very good, well designed holes to contend with. The short par-4 11th has no greenside bunkers but does have run off areas and its own little valley of sin to avoid and the 12th and 14th keep you focussed with well positioned ditches in the fairway. Add the excellent greens and reasonably priced fees into the mix and it’s safe to say that Donegal should not be overlooked on any trip to the North West of Ireland. Brian W
Looking back at my review from six years ago when I last played here, I missed a couple of important factors: firstly, the fairways are generally wide and forgiving so golfers can afford to spray the ball around a little bit without being too harshly punished and secondly, the 18 holes occupy a generous 240-acre site so, in many regards, the long length of most of the fairways – and the fact that there are five par fives – merely reflects the scale of the property.
On the front nine, I thought “Valley of Tears,” the par three 5th, was way better than I’d remembered it from before (loosely reminding me of the famous “Calamity” hole on the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush) whilst, on the back nine,
I’m a big fan of “Bogey Hill,” the 18th hole – even if the raised green and shaggy mounding at the back are a tad on the contrived side!
At the most northerly point on the course, a bank of old vegetation on the dune ridge next to the elevated 6th tee box has been removed and this now affords fantastic views across the sand flats and oyster farms out on Donegal Bay – I’d recommend that you stop for a wee breather at this point to soak up the scenery, especially if you’re still dabbing your eyes after posting a poor score at the preceding hole!
Murvagh’s great value for money (as are ALL the courses in this corner of the Emerald Isle) and well worth adding to your "must play" list.
Excellent course with alot of great challenges for all golfers,well worth a trip!!
Excellent. Played course on 1st July and thought wow. Only realised today that captains day was yesterday so obviously course was in top quality. Best course I have played in north west but on same level as Ballybunion or my favourite the European Club. So many stand out holes (2nd, 5th, 7th, 8th) on front nine and the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th stand out on back nine ensuring a strong finish if you want to be brave and attack the flags (it didnt work out for me). Should say I played of the orange tees (white and blue teeing areas closed) and it was a monster tough course which had me shooting 29points of a 8 handicap. Pretty poor i know but it is that tough a course
Played this course three times this week and I thought it was excellent. I am a relative newcomer to links golf and I have only played Corballis Links, Royal Dublin and Portmarnock Hotel and Links but this was by far the most impressive of the three. My personal favourite was the 8th hole the name of which escapes me at the moment but it is a hole that will live long in my memory. There was a deep contrast in the weather this week, with Monday being relatively calm and Tuesday and Thursday being very, very blustery. The only issue I had was a minor one and it related to simple course etiquette. We were playing in a twosome, a 4 and 7 handicapper and we got stuck behind a group of average players. No offer was made to allow us play through but like I have said it was a minor one and it added no more than an hour onto our game. Overall the best links course I have played and right up there with some of the finest course I have played.