Narin & Portnoo - Donegal - Ireland

Narin & Portnoo Golf Club,
Narin,
Portnoo,
Co Donegal,
Ireland


  • +353 74 9545107

  • Willie Quinn

  • Leo Wallace, Hughie McNeill, Eddie Connaughton, Gil Hanse

  • Daragh Lyons

If you want to play really simple, old-fashioned, unpretentious links golf then you often have to stray a little off the beaten track to island courses like the Machrie on Islay or Shiskine on Arran. Narin and Portnoo is not quite as remote as those two famous Scottish courses but only just.

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Donegal, Narin and Portnoo Golf Club is a links that deserves to be bracketed with many other natural, unspoilt courses that should be given greater recognition. In truth, the members probably prefer it that way as it doesn’t require hordes of tourist golfers fronting up at the first tee to confirm what a good course they play on.

The club was formed in 1930 and they played on a 9-hole layout for thirty-five years until it was extended to its current 18-hole size in 1965. The first green keeper, Jim McCole, held the post for over forty years, from 1934 to 1977 – it’s hearing about people like him that provide a flavour for what clubs like Narin and Portnoo are all about.

After limbering up on the opening few holes, the routing takes you into the dunes where some spectacular holes have been fashioned, none more so that the 7th, the signature 143-yard par three, played over a chasm to a two tiered green on an adjacent sand hill. And speaking of sand hills, be sure to have your camera on hand to snap this hole with the backdrop of what must be the biggest sand dune in all of Ireland across the bay.

The club have revamped the course in the last few years, fashioning a new 6th hole from the old 6th and 7th then remodelling the old holes from 11 to 15 - in the process creating three back-to-back par fives between hole 13 and 15! Additionally, the Narin & Portnoo clubhouse has been completely rebuilt, opening in June 2008.

Ten years later Gil Hanse was commissioned to redesign the course, so Narin & Portnoo's future is certainly rosy. The first phase of the project was completed by Hanse and his design partner Jim Wagner in March 2019. “Golfers will be blown away by the natural beauty, interest and quirk that the property offers,” said Wagner. “The new combination of golf holes and greens locations will add challenge and stunning visuals associated with the property.”

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Reviews for Narin & Portnoo

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Description: Tucked away in the southwest corner of Donegal, Narin and Portnoo Golf Club is a links that deserves to be bracketed with many other natural, unspoilt courses that should be given greater recognition. Rating: 7.9 out of 10 Reviews: 14
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EG Ohman

Narin and Portnoo sits between the cluster of top courses around Sligo (County Sligo GC/Rosses Point, Enniscrone and Donegal GC Murvagh) and the top courses in the eastern part of Donegal (Rosapenna, Portsalon and Ballyliffin). This logistical point is probably the main reason we have only played it once in three years of travelling the North and Northwest of Ireland.

Having played there, however, I see no other compelling reasons to leave it out. In fact, I can think of a few good reasons you should consider including it, even if it might add to your travelling time:

First, I really like the originality of the design, as far away from standard 36+36= 72 as possible. I mean where else would you find three par 5s in a row? Here you find them on the back nine – holes 13, 14 and 15. At least a couple of scoring chances you might think, and so did I...But, instead of salvaging my score I managed to wreck it by being too aggressive. Next time I will be wiser.

Second, I am also fond of courses with an opening hole which offers you a choice between a safe and an aggressive option. At N&P the first hole is only 289 meters (320 yards) with a drain crossing the fairway, which means that you actively have to choose your club already on the first tee. Here also, I will be wiser next time.

Third, if playing as much as you like at your own pace on a very good links course is your thing, then N&P is definitely one to consider. I base this recommendation not only on the single day we visited but also the state of booking sheets I regularly checked during the 2017 summer season to see if we could indeed choose our starting time freely, a definite plus given the variable Irish weather. Next time, I will stay to play more than one round, as long as the weather cooperates.

Finally, if you include N&P and then drive east towards Rosapenna, you will experience one of the most glorious roads Ireland has to offer. One fantastic view follows another. If you think views off the golf course have no place in a review like this, consider stopping on the way to play a late afternoon nine holes at nearby Cruit Island, where the craziest views, and ditto golf holes await. We did and will remember that day for the rest of our lives.

January 21, 2019
6 / 10
Narin & Portnoo
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A T Corr
May 27, 2019

You don't have to be crazy to play Cruit but it probably helps.

Many thanks for your review.

Peter Wood

Narin & Portnoo Golf Club is located in a delightful seaside resort in south west Donegal. The site is surrounded by the Atlantic Coast on one side, with sweeping views of Gweebarra Bay, and a picturesque lough on the other. As many classic links courses do, Narin & Portnoo starts quietly with the first four holes routed through low lying flattish land before building through some lower dunes and coming to a crescendo with Narin & Portnoo Golf Course - Photo by reviewer some dramatic holes in large dunes with glorious views. The course finishes with some pure links holes in smaller dunes. Overall the course has a very natural feel, and is cleverly routed to get best use of the dunes and views.

The green complexes are simple, natural and have enough movement to retain the golfer's interest. There are quite a number of world-class holes, none of which have been overdone.

When it comes to golf courses, I am a sucker for natural links courses. Narin & Portnoo is as natural as they come. The setting is gorgeous and the course is a joy to play with a succession of world class holes. It qualifies as a 'Travelling Golfer must play!'

Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.

January 16, 2019
8 / 10
Narin & Portnoo
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Charles

According to the gentleman in the pro shop Narin and Portnoo is about to undergo some further alterations, and some course architects have been engaged to that end. If so I hope they give most of their attention to the start and finish of the course, and leave holes 6-15 well alone.

The first five are decent holes but nothing to write home about. However, the stretch from 6-12 stands comparison with anywhere, really well-designed and sometimes dramatic holes through the dunes with simply glorious views. Thirteen is less interesting, but a fairly brutal par 5 into the prevailing wind, and followed by two more good par 5s at 14 and 15. Sixteen is, frankly, a slightly weak par 3, and 17 and 18 are similar to the opening five; decent holes but not special. The proximity of the caravan site is less than ideal but one can't have everything, and I suppose that even non-golfers are entitled to enjoy the superb beach and scenery.

A very good golf course, two-thirds of the way to being a great one.

May 09, 2018
8 / 10
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Dan Hare

Sensational dunes and coastal holes which rank with the very best. Sadly the relatively dull low lying holes drag the overall course down (N&P is in good company, the same could be said of Seaton Carew, Burnham & Berrow, RND, RSD, Aberdovey and many others. At least here the last hole could be improved by reclaiming the lovely dunes currently playing host to static caravans - the perennial beast to the beauty of links golf courses in the British Isles.) I dislike unprotected lateral water hazards in links courses, particularly here where it would (was) be possible to lose balls in quick succession at 3 & 4 to greens tight to the hazard and the wind blowing left to right. Anyway, enough negatives, the course really comes alive on the 5th approach shot and it's all fun from then on. Crumpled fairways, chasms, blind shots, downhill, uphill, threading the needle approaches - they are all here amongst a lovely location. Happily past some financial problems due to the brilliant new holes in the dunes, the course was in good shape and we had a great game at Narin & Portnoo and would definitely return.

April 22, 2018
8 / 10
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David Oliver

Fabulous golf course with the majority of holes in the dunes as good as any at more illustrious courses. The real fun starts at the 5th and continued unabashed until the 16th. The par 5, 15th is a special hole. Yes, there are some weaker “inland holes” but they are still decent holes. If you are planning a trip in this area, make time for a round here.

May 15, 2017
8 / 10
Narin & Portnoo
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Allan Wright
We played Narin and Portnoo last week as part of a five day Donegal Tour, also taking in Rosapenna Sandy Hills, Ballyliffin Old and Glashedy, and Portsalon. It’s a long 90 minute drive west of Rosapenna, and we were wondering whether it would be worth the trek. All I can say is, absolutely yes it is.This is great, natural links golf, more or less from beginning to end. The first four holes are on the flatter land, and are a mild introduction, though not without interest. You keep looking to your left at the great ridge of dunes, and wondering when you are going to get there. The answer is the tough second shot at the 5th, played over a large swale in the direction of play to a sloping green benched up in the dunes. From there until the 16th you play magically in and around the dunes, up hill shots, downhill shots, a couple of blind drives, greens on remote knobs, greens in superb natural punchbowls. It’s exhilarating, but never feels too difficult or contrived. The par 3 11th, played from a tee overlooking the beach 100 feet below, to a narrow two tiered green 180 yards away was a stand-out hole for me in this stretch.There are four par fives on the back nine, but two are classics, the 10th and 14th, and the 15th right along the top of the dune ridge with the Atlantic fully in play on the right side has to be one of the best par fives you will ever play, and is a longer cousin to the famous 11th at Ballybunion.The current layout was only finalized in the mid 2000s, with the creation of the marvelous 14th and 15th up in the dunes, allowing the club to drop two of the previous 6 short holes. It’s now therefore a tougher and better balanced layout.For such a remote course, I thought the condition was fine. You can’t go far wrong with natural links turf. Add in a warm welcome from the clubhouse team, and the standard issue magnificent sea views and mountain backdrop of the great Donegal courses, and you really ought to make it part of any golf trip to the area.This must sound like an over-enthusiastic review from a friend of the club. It’s not, I am a 5 handicapper from Sevenoaks who has played over 270 courses in the British Isles. This was my first visit. I would like to think it won’t be my last.
October 01, 2014
8 / 10
Narin & Portnoo
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Victor Donnay
October 11, 2015
I played Narin and Portnoo today and your review was right on target. It was a spectacular course with holes going through the dunes and great views of the ocean on many holes. I was paired with two members who were very friendly and gave me lots of helpful advice as we played. I got lucky with the weather a picture perfect day - sunny, slight breeze, 16 degrees. My wife took a walk to the Inishkeel island reachable at low tide from the beach beside the golf course where she explored a 1000 year old church ruin Afterwards we had a very pleasant lunch in the clubhouse. HIghly recommended.
Ronan
quite simply a magnificent course. the first 6 or so holes are ordinary but from there in there are many class holes. a real gem for its price. in my opinion its back nine isnt far of RCDs back nine.
September 28, 2009
8 / 10
Narin & Portnoo
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Richard
November 05, 2013
Has anybody played this course since 28 September 2009? Where are the reviews? looking to get up that way next year and trying to decide if a visit to N and P is in order.
JO
November 07, 2013
Richard, N&P should definitely be on your list. I played 3 rounds there in August 2011 and it is an absolute delight. There are mentions of weak opening holes, but really I would say the 3rd and 4th are the only "below average" holes. The rest is sheer pleasure. There is nothing quite like standing on the 9th tee, surrounded by the ocean or looking down the corridor of dunes on the 14th. But it is not just the surroundings that make the place special. Great changes of elevation make shortish par 4s interesting, short holes (bar 3rd) are great, green contours challenging, good (not great) conditioning overall. Pure and raw links golf. And the welcome of the members was great too. All in all a solid 5-ball rating from me. Hope you make the trip and enjoy it! JO
gerard mahood
Played this course on a bright May morning with a light sea breeze.This course is links golf in its raw form ,nothing fancy but great fun to play especially when you leave the mainly flat uninteresting first few holes then enter the holes in amongst the large dunes.Recomended Gerry
May 31, 2009
8 / 10
Narin & Portnoo
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Dave Miller
I was privileged to play this course for the first time last week, and I can guarantee that it will not be the last. Quite simply, this is an outstanding stretch of links golf. In response to a number of the reviews below, I should say that the clubhouse has been demolished and completely rebuilt early this year with impressive results. The clubhouse now includes spacious locker rooms, a cosy bar with excellent views over the first hole, plus a well-stocked pro shop. The course has been recently altered which now means a blind tee shot over dunes to find the 6th fairway which sits on a dogleg. From here until the short 16th is an absolute joy. Hole after hole of breathtaking views and beautifully crafted holes. Among my favourites are three of the par fives: the 10th is a real toughie but don’t be tempted to go for the green in two, the 14th hole winds through a tight gap between the dunes and up to an elevated and undulating green, the 15th plays back into the wind and the view from the tee is something else. Tips:1) As a general rule; keep it straight since the penalty for a wayward strike is usually a lost ball (especially in summer). This explains why most of the open competitions are stablefords! 2) Look out for the water hazard at the back of the green on the par-5 second. Unlike the pond to the right of this hols, it’s a burn with a steep drop into it. You’ll have no shot if you go into the hazard.3) There is no stroke-saver available for this course, so first timers will be a bit in the dark on the 6th tee (as I was), so the safe bet is a mid iron for the piece of fairway you can see. Once you reach your ball, you will see how much of the corner you could have cut off with a driver, but it still leaves you with a 7-iron instead of a wedge up to an elevated green.4) When playing the 8th, hold left for a look at the 9th green. This will give you an idea of what to expect for the blind tee shot on the 9th.5) As I said, don’t go for the 10th green in two – you’ll regret it!6) Ignore the score, and just enjoy!
August 05, 2008
8 / 10
Narin & Portnoo
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Peter Teague
I played this course last month and this is another wonderful North West links course. The opening 4-5 holes are quite ordinary with out of bounds on your right and quite flat fairways. But from the 6th hole on, the course enters the dunes and there is a great run of holes from there through to about the 16th. The 14th was a brilliant par 5 that had a narrow almost tunnel like fairway with dunes either side up to an elevated green. The scenery as the course reaches out to the wild Atlantic is breathtaking. You will not play a course anywhere with more dramatic views. The greens are excellent very soft and receptive which i found unusual for a links course. Peter, Belfast
January 03, 2008
10 / 10
Narin & Portnoo
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