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 W. 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.
Despite being played over similar rugged terrain no hole feels even remotely the same and this is its biggest asset; 18 individual and exceptional holes where the array of golf on offer is superb.
Despite being located next to Donabate Estuary and bordered by water on three sides we do not get to see much of the sea from the links but the views towards Malahide – from where golfers used to boat across - is a captivating horizon for long periods of the round with aeroplanes regularly taking-off from and landing at nearby Dublin airport.
There’s no denying that if you are offline you will be punished at The Island with either a lie that requires a hack-out, or a lost ball in the mighty sandhills, but there is just about enough width to get away with it although the penal nature of the course counts as a slight black mark against it.
Tough but fair would be a description The Club may feel was accurate. However, playing Baltray on the same day it was noticeable how much more playable County Louth was and all the better for it.
Overall there’s very little to dislike at The Island and so much to love. There are a couple of holes where there are some clear gather points on the fairway, riddled with divots, but that goes with the territory at courses with such rumbling terrain. And there is no denying it is a tough course, however, there is just so much to admire that these minor points are easily forgotten.
Green-fees start from around the €150 mark which is a lot of money for a game of golf and there are few courses I would ever advise anyone to pay this sum for hitting a little white ball over some sandy ground, but I think you get good value at The Island.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The first time I played The Island, both of our groups walked off the course with three holes (7-9) to play due to slow play which had us on pace for a 5 ½ hour round. We were at 4:45 when we walked off. Much to our surprise, the offending people were Irish. I do not know if they were members or locals as they came in as we were having some drinks and snacks. The experience was so disappointing that I was not sure I wanted to go back. Based on this experience as well as at a few other courses in Ireland, it served as a confirmation in my mind at that time that golf in Ireland and Northern Ireland was for golfers who wanted to spend a day at the club. Who can blame them?
Yet what I saw of the course on those 15 holes was enchanting. I did not expect to find massive hills and dunes. It is a course that seemingly built on prior hole with the next hole being a superior hole, I could not prove that to be the case since I had skipped three holes, but what I did see was so compelling that I knew I wanted to return.
I did go back on a day when a top professional was playing the course as part of his preparation for The Open. After being politely asked to allow him a 45 minute gap before we teed off (only 15 minutes behind our scheduled time), our two groups set out. Although there were about eight or nine people in his entourage, we only saw them once on the golf course and our two groups played in 3:40.
I did have a chance to reacquaint myself with The Island, with the exception of those three holes. The two times I have played it, I have started on the back nine, which to me is often not that big of a deal.
I like The Island a lot. On my personal list of golf courses that I have played, it is just outside my top 100. I like the uniqueness of it, its quirkiness, the wonderful smooth greens, the routing, the green complexes and the defenses. I like the visual look of it with the rolling naturalness of it, the higher dunes that appear more like small hills, fall offs and valleys, and of course the view back across to Malahide. This is a golf course that I believe is under rated. Perhaps the complaints one can make regarding the golf is the absence of more strategic bunkers, many of the bunkers are not deep enough, and there is a similarity of holes on yardage and bend on the front nine. But as stated, I really like the holes seem to get better and better as you play through one’s round. I also like how the seemingly easier holes tempt you to perhaps try some shots you really have no business trying nearly always resulting in adding an extra shot instead of saving one. Once in trouble, there is a lot of fun on this golf course in trying to figure out how to resolve the situation as to not embarrass oneself. As they say, sometimes there are “good” bogies.
I also very much like the “island” feel to the golf course. It can feel pretty alone here even if one often hears sounds all around you whether it is birds, boats, or noises from across the Malahide bay.
Of the courses near Dublin, I tell everyone to play Portmarnock Championship, followed by County Louth and then The Island. I rate The Island higher than County Louth but I recommend County Louth because nearly all of the Americans I talk to have now heard of The Island. As for slow play, when I follow up with them after they have played The Island, they tell me its sometimes slow, but not agonizingly slow as the first time I played.
This course is as natural as Ballybunion Old and Lahinch Old. It really offers everything such as elevated greens, sunken greens, shots along the water, shots in the dunes, shots to flat greens, twists and turns, undulated fairways, valleys, and fantastic greens. As I said, I do not believe it has a truly weak hole for anyone who is a mid-length hitter and plays from a 5 to a 25. The back tees are now above 7100 yards so even the longer hitter and scratch player is going to find a challenge here.
The first hole sets one off beautifully down a wide fairway on this straight hole with a narrowing fairway arriving at a green sitting between the dunes on this mid-length par 4. The green is very good as it is raised and slopes slightly back to front. Bushes surround the green but are set back a bit. The green has a smooth putting surface. It is a good indication of the quality of the greens to follow. There are no bunkers on this hole and there probably should be a few in the fairway as well as at the green. It is a visually very pretty golf hole and likely one of the best starting holes in the UK and Ireland.
The second is a slight dogleg left to a severely sloping green as a shorter par 4. Three bunkers guard the front of the green and catch a lot of balls that are hit short. I like the narrowness of the hole, the large dunes to the right, smaller dunes to the left and the rumpling of the fairway as you near the green with small and large swales. I particularly like the green complex with the two deep bunkers right and one left but with added grass bunkers and fall offs around the green leading one’s ball into fairly deep swales. This is a good golf hole.
The third hole is a very long par 4 at over 500 yards. One is tempted to swing hard to get the ball as close to the green as possible but high grass and water awaits down the right side although there is a ridge line that serves as a buffer. The fairway itself is relatively smooth. It is a straight hole but a short approach shot and even landing on the green moves the ball to the right so play in is to the left or center of the green. There is a somewhat hidden bunker to the left of the green (you can see it if you are forced to hit a short club in for your third). The green is two-tiered and slopes to the right. It is a brilliantly difficult, but fair golf hole which for many players I suspect a par is secured if they can make only one putt. This is a hole where for visual purposes only I thought some bunkers should be added, not so much for defense but to put some doubts in the mind of the player who is trying to play the hole too conservatively. This is highlighted as one of the best holes on the golf course and I certainly agree.
As mentioned, if one wanted to critique The Island for similar holes, the next three holes would serve as their basis. Holes 4-6 are relatively short dogleg left par 4’s with the sixth being the shortest. If someone wants to critique The Island for this sameness in the routing, that is understandable, yet this is what the land called for between the dunes. In my opinion, the holes have a good variety to them in look and also vary in the green complexes.
The fourth hole is a lovely shorter dogleg par 4 with a single bunker at the left turn in the fairway and two near the front right of the green. Perhaps this hole could use one additional bunker at the green, which is relatively thin and elevated surrounded on the right by mounds and on the left has a fall off. It is a beautiful green complex.
The fifth is a blind tee shot to a very rippled, rolling fairway with swales of different sizes. One never knows where the tee shot will finish given the mounds and valleys in the fairway. The green is well defended with three bunkers fronting the green. Although similar in length to the fourth, it looks and plays very differently. You are actually abutting Corballis Links Golf Club as you walk off the green to the sixth tee.
The sixth is the second shortest par 4 on the golf course and it is fun beginning with an elevated tee, the highest on The Island. For those trying to drive the green there are two nasty pot bunkers on the right and a fairway bunker fronting the dunes on the left. The large dune on the left blocks the view of the green. The green is sloped so that a shot into it can be difficult to stay on the green so distance precision is higher on this hole. This is a sharper dogleg than the two holes preceding it. For a short par 4, this is a very good golf hole and one that I always struggle on because of its temptations.
While the seventh is technically still a dogleg left, it is only a slight turn and as the hole is much longer than the previous three holes, it does not seem to play as a dogleg. It is a wide fairway which narrows and then widens again fronting the green. The green is one of the best on the golf course. The green has a big fall off on the left side and has bushy thorns on the right side and back of the green that will likely lead to a dropped shot. The miss on the hole is to be short right where the ball will run off a bit but one still has a chance at recovery. This hole has no bunkers on it and it is one that I definitely would add some, as many as six because six and eight are meant to be “easier” holes the front side should have a very difficult hole on it and it really does not.
The shortest par 4 on the golf course is next. The tee box is situated back inside of vegetation on either side. There is a rise in the fairway before another very good green which is one of the more undulating greens on the golf course. The other defense to the hole is the out of bounds right for a road. The green sits down in almost a punchbowl or dell. It is a brilliant short par 4; one you might expect to find on North Berwick West such is the uniqueness and naturalness of the setting of the green.
Perhaps it is a little odd that the first par 3 comes late into the round, but the ninth has another good green complex and green itself, which slopes back to front and has four bunkers at the front. Looking back at my first visit to The Island, I was really annoyed about missing seven and nine in particular due to the slow play on that day. For whatever reason, usually it feels odd to me to finish a course on a par 3, (Pasatiempo comes to mind), but when one starts on the back nine resulting in a finishing hole being a par 3, it does not seem odd at all.
The front nine is the scoring nine on the golf course as the bar gets raised on the back nine due to added length and more difficulty sometimes in the tee shot and sometimes with the second. Some very difficult holes await on the back nine which is 250 yards longer despite having two par 3’s as opposed to only one on the front side; this is due to the only par 5s being on the back nine.
As mentioned, I have only ever begun on the back nine at The Island. It is actually quite a thrill to start on such a compelling hole as the tenth. There are temptations on this hole but a poor shot will typically result in losing a shot or more. It is a nice-looking mid length par 5 that is a dogleg right. It seems like it should be a neasy par with a fair chance at a birdie. The look from the tee tempts one so much to try to go as right as possible even if there is no reason to do so. The two fairway bunkers on the left at the turn also want to force you to play down the right side. As you approach the green the fairway has a substantially sized valley on the right. There is a large and deep bunker left of the green that is there to catch the person trying to make the green in two. Another smaller pot bunker in on the left back closer to the green as well as one in front and both are very much in play. Dips and swales are on the back and right of the green. There is a fair amount of vegetation on the right side as you play up to the green as well as the shot hit far too long will find the water behind the green. The hole has a very nice green, one of the smoothest on the golf course on the times I have played.
Next is a mid-length par 4 plays a bit like a double dogleg but ultimately it is a slight dogleg right where one should try to stay left for a better shot at the green as the right side of the fairway leaves a trickier shot. Another nice green awaits here but one cannot go too far right at the green or you find scattered bushes and trees. The miss at the green is clearly to the left side.
For me, the next seven holes are the best stretch on the golf course and there is no let up. While I have yet to play the routing as intended, I can only imagine the rush of adrenaline as the course builds and builds to its finish.
The twelfth is a dogleg left with a valley fronting an elevated green. Much like the previous hole, the best line into the green is on the left but it brings a hill into play that typically leads to a chip back to the fairway or a fair amount of courage to try to reach the green. There is a pond far left that should not come into play. There are no bunkers on the hole and I go back and forth as to whether it needs some. Adding bunkers on this hole would raise the challenge but it is already a fine hole although the green is flat.
A long par 3 follows requiring courage to take on the green with water down the right side and eating into the tee shot a bit. There is a large dip for a grass bunker in front of the green that I do not find to be difficult as I watched others play out of it. The dip is preceded by a rise fronting the green. The safe play is to the left side but saving par is unlikely due to the green; at least no one in our groups have ever done so. This is one of the two unique holes for me because it looks different to the eye than other holes that are built the same way; maybe it’s the view of the boats in the water, the lawn and croquet club and the town across the water.
Next is one of the most unique golf holes ever, the mid-length par 4 with likely the narrowest fairway one will ever play, particularly since the bay awaits down the entire right side of the fairway. I have read it is only 15 yards wide and I have read it is only 28 feet wide. I think it varies a bit here and there but overall including the light rough on either side I think there is about 22 yards of width. A miss slightly to the left will likely kick the ball into the fairway. There is a bit of room between the end of the fairway and the water but if the wind is going left right this must be one of the most daunting tee shots in all of golf. On a windless day this hole is not quite as terrifying as I have made birdie here. It is a nice long slightly undulating green waiting at the end but again you cannot miss right and long is also not a good option due to the taller grass. There is a fall off to the right of the green for its entire length.
The fifteenth is a longer par 5 and I hole that is my favorite on the golf course. From the tee to the green there is so much going on in the terrain that it is a visual feast. The better play to the green is down the left side yet three fairway bunkers are on the left. A dune rise on the right side of the fairway presents additional difficulty. At the green there is a single bunker on the left. This is a lovely green site set at the base of the dunes. It is a large but flat green. You are heading back into the dunes on this hole and away from the water. One friend of mine suggested that they should have moved a bit of earth here and put the green slightly higher up in the dune but I like the green as is.
The sixteenth is a longer par 3 requiring an additional club as it plays to an elevated green. It is a difficult par as the green is well bunkered with two bunkers each in front of the green on either side and will likely catch every ball struck too weakly. These are some of the more difficult bunkers that are near the green. You can land a lower struck shot short of the green and it will still go on.
The second or third most difficult tee shot awaits on the seventeenth as it is narrow (but not nearly like the fourteenth) with water once again on the right. Two fairway bunkers are on the right which can often be more of a blessing to find them. The fairway slopes to the right nearly all the way to the green. There is a large grass bunker left and smaller depressons. The hole has another very smooth and undulating green with a steep, but not deep fall off in the rear of the green.
A long par 4 finishes The Island. The tee shot is intimidating as the drive must go through a valley with dunes on either side that seem to narrow the size of the fairway. The fairway rises slightly as you approach the large, deep green which is fronted by two bunkers. You cannot yank the tee shot to the right or it will find taller vegetation but the fairway is wide enough that it should not happen. If The Island added some fairway bunkers on this hole and perhaps another one at the back left of the green, this would become one of the finer finishing holes that one would every play.
The entire site is dominated by glorious dunesland, and the dunes come in all sizes and shapes! The golf course looks like it was always there - it is a very natural site with holes wending their way through the dunes, touching the sea, and heading back into the dunes again.
A round of golf at The Island is very much affected by the weather, and as you would expect on a natural links course the wind is a major factor. It had a role in forming the dunes, and it will certainly have a role in determining how well you score!
There are not many true links courses in the world where the quality of the dunesland is consistent through all 18 holes. Usually the quieter land impacts on the quality of the overall course. At the Island there are just a few quieter holes in the back nine, but I thought each of these was quite delightful, with views over the estuary, and the quality of the holes high. In fact the variation of holes at The Island was a strength of the course. Some holes are set in huge dune ampitheatres, others have blind tee shots, and greens set in natural dells, still others hit along or over the estuary. It certainly is a magical mystery tour the first time around, and had me wanting to plan my next game.
If you head to Ireland to play some golf, The Island should be at the top of your list. Land in Dublin and you are right on the doorstep of one the world's most natural links courses.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
We had lunch at Portmarnock which was closed to outside play due to The R&A Amateur. On a great trip, The Island was second from the bottom, but I would play it again for sure.
It was a tough day with the wind, and there are a few awkward spots/holes, so it has some flaws. That said, it is a beautiful location out on the peninsula where you are "in Dublin" but still remote.
David Costigan is simply the perfect "Irish Pro".
The Island - A course of massive dunes, more like what one would see in the south west of the country.
The layout is both testing and rewarding, it has holes moving to all points of the compass, this the wind is a factor be it helpful/hurtful/neutral depending on the hole.
Hitting away from the clubhouse between two massive dunes, the opening hole is daunting, the second through the chute to a raised green is thrilling - a tough opener.
A gentle downhill dogleg left is your first glimpse of the sea, the view is panoramic from this tee, a back pin makes the hole very difficult.
A line drive along the beach, this is a gentle hole before some stern stuff over the coming holes, that is unless its windy
The reverse twin of the 1st, an hourglass fairway, your tee shot needs to be kept to the right, the terrain tracks the ball left to a well placed pot, the green lays right to left - a brutal beauty.
A blind tee shot looks more intimidating than it is, once over the hill the fairway is generous, the green sits in a giant amphitheater of sand dunes, cool hole.
A layup tee shot affords you a look through two hills to a narrow green running away.
A long hole which looks generous from the tee, but a spine running down the fairway for the 2nd shot makes things difficult for those who can’t carry the ball.
Eight is a lovely short 4 with a forced layup at 200m/220y, the green is partly hidden by the dunes & the green moves away from you left to right. Possibly the worst placed path I have ever seen runs along the front of the green.
A shortish par 3 with a downhill kink in the middle of the green which you cannot see from the tee.
This long par 5 Challenges you to fade tee a shot along the border of the course, bunkers guard the left, the green is protected by a deep hollow to the right
A drive over a crest reveals a kink to the right with a green that lays the other way, a hard shot to visualise
A classic risk reward tee shot over 2 massive dunes, hard to work out the club/line first time around, the green is raised but is a semi punchbowl at the back
The signature hole, a massive 200m/220y par 3 over a rocky beach, Malahide is in the background - golf heaven!
The narrowest fairway I have even seen on a links at 15m, it’s hard to concentrate here such are the views
The longest par 5 on the course drops down into a valley, the approach is to a cauldron of a green, the scale of these sand hills is incredible
A long uphill par 3 to a raised green takes a well hit shot only, anything else will be rejected to a waiting bunkers
What a view and what a challenge from the tee, hazard and bunkers to the right, dunes to the left, epic hole!
This is a brutal finisher, parallel to the first, you have a change a glory here but keep your nose clean as the dunes await.
Can’t wait to come back here again, a special experience.￼
The Island is a good course, and you know what you're getting. It's definitely no-frills, the pro shop reminded me of my local muni (that's a compliment I swear). I like getting somewhere and knowing it's all about the golf. The massive dunes were fun to navigate, and the course was super firm and fast ahead of the Amateur. There were plenty of fantastic golf holes there, but there were quite a few that weren't special to me. It's definitely somewhere I could see myself coming again, although I wouldn't put it at the top of my list. If you're touring Dublin, the Island is a fantastic true links worth the visit.
It was the best of times (playing The Island), it was the worst of times (a 4 club wind), it was the age of wisdom (€80 green fee in March), it was the age of foolishness (playing off of mats).
This place is a bona fide 5 ball golfing experience. I enjoyed standing on almost every tee box, every green, and almost everything in between. 6 ball for some and I’d have no complaints at that.
If I can be ultra critical, some of the green sites felt a little repetitive (raised/elevated), and a minority of holes (perhaps the 10th) were not up to the quality of the majority.
But overall a great golf course full in space and scale and - along with Portmarnock & County Louth - the foundation of an excellent itinerary of East Coast Irish Links Golf.
In 2019 The Island will be co-hosting The Amateur Championship, which speaks to its credentials to test the best. I don’t quite fall into that category - or even the 4 categories below it - but I did find it surprisingly playable, even in the ill wind that blew. As you face challenging tee shots like those at the 13th or 14th, it’s wonderful anticipation to see if your ball is going to heaven, or is it going direct the other way... Great fun!
One review aptly describes the Island as a 'no frills golf course that is very harmonious with its surroundings'... succinctly put. Wonderful day out. A treat!
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