The Island in Ireland was once on an island. It’s now attached to the mainland but it’s still an isolated peninsula-like spur of links land, sandwiched between the Irish Sea, the beach of Donabate and the Broadmeadow estuary.
Few people know about The Island Golf Club, despite the fact that the course is over 100 years old and has featured in numerous ranking tables over the years. One leading UK golf magazine once commented: “The best course in Ireland you have never heard of. Play it and tell no-one.”
Bernard Darwin was certainly aware at the turn of the 20th century because in his book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, he wrote extensively about Royal Dublin and Portmarnock and said: “It would be unfair to omit some mention of Malahide – ‘the Island’ – where there is golf to be had, which may legitimately be called sporting in the best sense of the word.”
Ten Irishmen, known as the “Syndicate”, founded the club in 1890 and they needed a ferryman to take them from Malahide across the estuary to play golf. When they were set to return to the mainland, they would hang a large red and white disc from the clubhouse wall to signal that they were ready for pickup by the water taxi. A “Syndicate” of ten ran the Island Golf Club until the late 1950s and since then, the club has opened up its membership.
This is a no-frills golf course. There is nothing artificial, it’s simply harmonious and in tune with its surroundings. Some of the most shaggy, rugged and looming sand dunes imaginable provide natural and distinct amphitheatres for many of the holes. In the summer, if you are unfortunate and wayward enough to find the dunes, be careful to avoid trampling on the wild dune flowers. The club is quite rightly proud of its flora. Expect to hear the hypnotic song of the lark – there are plenty to be heard and the skylark is the Island’s club emblem.
It is unclear who originally laid out the course, but the Island has been revised by Fred Hawtree, Eddie Hackett and more recently by Martin Hawtree. From the tips, the golf course now measures 6,903 yards with par set at 71. The challenge invariably comes from the wind and the ability to find the greens; these putting surfaces are some of the very best around. There are some great holes to choose from, but the signature hole and our favourite is the long par three 13th, measuring over 220 yards. There is a bail-out option short of the green to the left, but the brave will take on the beach, hoping that they strike the ball cleanly and that they have the right club in their hand.
Dublin is certainly awash with outstanding links golf courses and the Island is right up there with the very best. No trip to Dublin would be complete without a pint or two of the black stuff and a round at the Island.
Here’s a list of important tournaments recently hosted by The Island Golf Club: Irish Qualifying Competition for The Open Championship 2005, European Youths Amateur Team Championship 2004, Irish Ladies Close Championship 2004, Irish PGA Championship 1999, Irish Close Championship 1998. Darren Clarke holds the professional course record with a 63.
Great fun links golf in a beautiful location, excellent variety in superb condition for this early in the season. On our way back from the North West (sob !) to spend the night in Donabate before our early ferry, it was a beautiful evening so called by at 5 pm to see if we could race the Sun home. The excellent team of pros couldn't have been more helpful, and out we went onto a very quiet course. The club has obviously invested in the course and its surrounds, a huge swathe of turf around the first and a nice waste area next to 8 th tee. The opening string of par 4s are strong, traditional holes along dune valleys, fun green sitings, and tremendous condition greens and run offs allowing creativity in one's recovery shots. By far the best turf we've seen in 2 weeks in Ireland, the fairways are like carpet. I had a bit of an " Uh oh" moment looking at the flatter 10th and 11th, but the green complexes are excellent, and then the dunes recommence for a very strong finish. I do agree with other reviewers ref the narrow par 4, but it's still fun and 14 - 18 are as tough as any finish. We got round in 3 hrs and we treated to a beautiful setting sun casting long shadows in the rippling fairways, and the dell green on the outstanding long 15, with as Bernard Darwin would say much "pleasurable anticipation" of seeing where one's first 2 shots had finally alighted in the swooping fairway. A pink full moon rising above the Sea set the seal on a magical round of golf that will live long in the memory and fittingly brought to a close a fantastic trip to North West Ireland which deserves to be compared to the Scottish Highlands as a good value golf and scenic destination.
The Island exceeds expectations -- if not re-defines them. What golf course anywhere starts a round of eight par-fours in a row? One might imagine that sort of opening to become boring and dreary pretty quickly ... but not here. The strong variety of holes, both in length and design, really helped focus one on what the game is truly all about -- drive the golf ball consistently, get to greens successfully, then two-putt or get up and down for par (i.e. it actually helped my round and scoring, fwiw). Holes 6 and 7 are especially memorable, both nestled jointly in their own warm amphitheater, offering "feel good" and "I'm into this round" moments to make par or better. The back nine is very different, traditional in its variety of holes, but equally strong -- and the stretch in the middle is the course's best. The brave and difficult par-3 13 -- long, great view, no bail out. The uniquely short and narrow par-4 14th -- I walked off the fairway at it's widest parts, probably no more than 10 yards wide at best. Then the par-5 15th -- my favorite hole on the course, one of the best and most memorable par-5s I've ever played anywhere. And what a wonderful finishing hole at 18! Longest and hardest par-4 on the property -- but a fair, inviting and unforced finishing hole (perfect presentation of links dunes to border and undulating terrain to support). Requires a long drive to a pinched landing area -- then a mid to long iron, over bunkers, to an elevated green -- and with a following wind, using the game along the ground to shape and advance both tee ball and approach. As you might guess, this type of memory for a single golf hole speaks to the overall wonderfulness of The Island -- as this web site's summary describes, the course is in perfect harmony with it's surroundings. And while I have yet to play County Louth or Royal Dublin -- I would certainly choose The Island above Portmarnock, if I had just one round to play in and around Dublin. And did I also mention -- the staff is warm, friendly and unpretentious -- so what's not to like about spending a day in your life at The Island?!?!?! Don D
The Island eluded me for many years but I was lucky enough to play it last Wednesday. Bathed in sunshine and with a two-club wind, this was perfect weather to experience one of the most underrated links courses in Ireland.
Eight back-to-back par fours on the outward nine could be considered dull, but each and every one is different and in no way monotonous. Ironically, the tee shot on the one-shot 9th (Bowl) appeared innocuous, but the Biarritz-like greensite and bunkering is outstanding. The signature par three 13th was playing directly into the wind and we were called up on this 215-yarder by the group in front. Fergal hit a 1 iron to 10 feet and I sliced my drive majestically into the sea – c'est la vie.
Many don’t like the pencil thin, short two-shot 14th, but I’ve never seen anything like it before and I loved its quirkiness and its beachside setting. With the wind behind, it needed only a 7-iron and a 9-iron approach, but I still failed to make par.
Despite being held up by two groups of members (3-ball and 4-ball) who didn’t care to let our two-ball through, the back nine seemed to conclude in a flash. There’s so much variety here at The Island which captivated me from start to finish.
By some distance, even though the greens were running a tad slow for my liking on the day, I had more fun here than on any other East Coast links. John, the new General Manager, told us after the round that Mackenzie & Ebert are advising the club. Fergal suggested cutting a high tee (or two) into the gigantic dunes to create an outward par five – this would give a thrilling driving platform and generate even more theatre on a layout that already stimulates all the senses.
Thanks for a great review of one of my favorite courses in GB & I. This course has all the aspects of links golf I love; tumultuous terrain, quirky holes and a sense of joy and fun while you are playing. Hopefully I can meet up with you and Fergal one day on another trip over. Fergal still carries a one iron! Impressive.
I could have been at Yale…..or maybe the Old Course ………playing the 9th and 10th at The Island. The front nine closes with a short par 3 featuring a Biarritz green…..even better than most of Seth Raynor’s versions as the back half slopes hard down toward a bunker on the left. The next hole calls for a drive over the out of bounds stakes to have any chance of reaching the green in two……albeit it does lack the railroad sheds of St. Andrews.
The rest of The Island is equally good with much of it running through mighty dunes., The golfer gets exposure to all wind directions as a few holes run north-south with the prevailing routing is north-south. The separation created by the dunes relieves the tedium found in many courses with parallel visible holes. Numbers 10-13 are not among the dunes, but are just as strong as the others.
The only weak hole on the course is the 333 yard 14th. When members used to arrive by boat from across the river in Malahide, they started on the current 14th, which was then a par 3, and finished on the current 13th, also a par 3. With the removal of the clubhouse to its current location, the course had consecutive par 3s and that didn’t sit well. So the 14th was lengthened into a par 4. Unfortunately, with the river on the right and high grass on the left, this new hole only had room for a narrow fairway—the width where I measured was 28 feet. That the hole is best played with two middle irons gives a sense of its dubious quality. A drivable par 4, with the green in the dunes behind the 15th tee, would have been a better solution.
But I protest too much. With as fine a set of contoured greens as you’ll find anywhere, plenty of opportunities to play the running game and holes with a great variety of lengths (the par 4s run from 296 yards to 465) and configurations (half a dozen doglegs), The Island is a delight from start to finish. Lahinch is my favorite course in the Republic, but The Island is a close second.