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8 miles NE of Dublin
William Pickeman, George Ross, Mungo Park, George Coburn, Martin Hawtree
Portmarnock Golf Club is situated on its own sandy peninsula, approximately two miles long and covering some 500 acres. In 1893, William Pickeman, a Scottish insurance broker, and his friend George Ross, rowed across the sea from Sutton to the peninsular and immediately realised that this was prime golfing terrain. In those days, the peninsula could only be safely reached by boat.
The land belonged to the famous distiller, John Jameson, and from around 1850, the links was used as the Jameson’s private golf course. Nine “proper” holes opened for play in 1894, Scotsman Mungo Park (winner of the 1874 Open Championship at Musselburgh Old course) directed the course design and became Portmarnock’s first professional. Two years later another Scot, George Coburn, extended the course to eighteen holes. Pickeman was the driving force behind Portmarnock’s beginnings and went on to design other courses in Ireland.
There is nothing man-made about Portmarnock; it’s a natural links, and considered to be a very fair golf course. With water on three sides, the course is at the mercy of the wind. Laid out broadly in two loops of nine holes, you are invariably playing in different directions. Measuring just less than 7,500 yards from the back tees, it is a formidable test of golf. You will need your very best putting game because the greens at Portmarnock are lightning fast and true. Or in the words of Bernard Darwin: “Perhaps the outstanding beauty of Portmarnock lies in its putting greens. They are good and true, which is a merit given to many greens, and they are very fast without being untrue, which is given only to a few, and is a rare and shining virtue”.
There are delightful views to the south of the Ireland’s Eye (a small island), home to important seabird colonies and the Hill of Howth (once famous for its electric trams). On a clear day looking northwest, the Mountains of Mourne are visible.
Portmarnock has hosted a number of important events including—on 19 occasions—the Irish Open, the Canada Cup and the Walker Cup. The closing five holes are especially brutal. Bernard Darwin once commented: ”I know of no greater finish in the world than that of the last five holes at Portmarnock”. The first of these closing holes, the 14th, requires an accurate approach shot to a narrow green, or in Joe Carr’s case, an accurate drive. Apparently Carr, an amateur, made a hole-in-one on this 385-yard par 4. How on earth did he miss those greenside bunkers?
The par three 15th, measuring 190 yards from the medal tee, plays along the seashore. Any hint of a left to right shaped tee shot will almost certainly end up on the beach, whilst the green is protected at the front by three fearsome bunkers. Ian Woosnam almost came a cropper on this hole in the second round of the 1988 Irish Open. His opening tee shot ended up in the sea, but playing three off the tee, he somehow managed to find the edge of the green and then he holed a 40-footer for a bogey. Clearly inspired by this miraculous save, Woosnam went on to win the title.
A third (Yellow) nine was added in 1971, designed by Fred Hawtree and costing a very modest £3,500. The only change required to the Championship layout (Red and Blue nines) was a new fairway and green for the 6th hole.
Fred’s son Martin was commissioned to upgrade the course prior to the 2003 Irish Open and this involved reconfiguring the 1st hole (with fairway and green moved to the right), constructing a new par three 12th, installing new greenside runoffs on five holes and new tees on three other holes.
I was so excited about playing the Championship course at Portmarnock, and boy was i not disappointed. The clubhouse delivers the perfect feel for such a grand club. Full of traditional touch and perfectly set out, it leans on the old school but with a nod to modern expectations, with a lovely bar and strong proshop.
The course is set over 3 separate nines, very much like Princes, and I was fortunate to play the Championship 'Red and Blue' 9's. It was only yesterday and it was baltic and windy, but that didn't put us off.
This course was in perfect condition and manicured to the brim. A particular highlight for me was the very short 110yd Par 3 11th, with it's unapologetic deep bunkers, and undulating green. A complete masterclass.
The course sets out with 5 straight par 4s, which is not particularly to my taste. However, by this point I was so captivated by the course, I just didn't care, and enjoyed everything it gave us. Additionally I found Portmarnock a very fair course. It gives you opportunities to score well, but is equally clinical at punishing you for sloppiness; rightfully so.
This place used to hose the Irish Open, and only lost it because it didn't permit female members. I believe women members have just been voted in, so I hope it gets reinstated, as this course is just the most wonderful place to play golf.
This one was a long awaited since a kid as The Golf Tournament held at my St Brendan’s College had an award named “Portmarnock” for the best attitude on the day and it was one very special prize won by special people. Having been educated at an Irish School gave me some strong feelings and love to the country and I have to say the day was extremely special.
Last day on a Tour which included devastating defeat for Los Pumas against The Shamrock 53-7 (but a great experience at Aviva Stadium), not even the cold weather was able to make the day special.
This is a Club where you have to live the full experience: come early, do the Club House Tour, enjoy a warm coffee watch Sugarloaf through the Window, then go do some warming up and play (if possible!) all 27 holes. During Autumn and Winter one loop of 9 “rests” every week for deeper maintenance work so I could not play the Blue (back 9 of the Championship Course) but I can’t feel not even close to disappointed, the Yellow rocks as well and that trick 280yds 4th hole might be the best one on the Club.
Portmarnock is a well deserved Top 100 Course and there are way too many descriptions of the holes so let’s point what the experience is like. Even in Cold Late November the greens were rolling excellent, no mats needed, bunkers in very good shape and course in emerald green!
It is not a course where you will lose many balls unless of course your Driver goes wayward left or right, but getting to the fairway properly is not easy as not many straight holes and you will need to work the ball in both directions. Bunkers are small and penal, if you are one on fairway bunker it will be a lost shot always.
The views are extraordinary on the first holes mainly but all along the way it is just pure golf. And lunch at the Club will be a perfect farewell to a visit to this very special place.
There are more than 36k courses in the world and there is a extremely small number of golfers who will play more than 360 (1% of the total!!), with this the point is rankings are very subjective as everybody rate courses without having played 99% of them. For some people the Old will be a World Top 100, for others lower and maybe for even some not a Top 100. The debate is great and everyone will have a point in their opinion, but all golfers playing Portmarnock will agree in it’s true greatness!
Portmarnock is that course which gains much favor but one I don't ascribe to. It's a nice course. But I'm hard pressed to remember much there. The course is in great shape and it has much history. My choice if I'm in the area and can only play once would be The Island 9 out of 10 times.
Played it a couple of weeks ago. Absolutely outstanding condition from tee to green and tough but really fair test even if (like me) you're at best a pretty ordinary player.
The staff were superb, too.
My one abiding memory of Portmarnock was walking off the 14th tee, thinking to myself, “this is a hell of a golf course, up there with the best I’ve played” and then laughing to myself as I stepped out onto the 15th tee and realising it was even better than I just thought.
For me, Portmarnock has pretty much everything I want in a course.
The setup the day I played it was perfect. Fairways a decent width, rough that was playable and you would almost always find your ball, but with no guarantee of a good lie. If you did find the rough then it would take a really special shot to hit and hold those incredibly firm greens. For me this makes the course playable for high handicappers as well as challenging for the better players.
I also found it to be a really clever course. On holes like 8&9 there is a bit of a bailout off the tee. But if you end up in it you leave yourself a dreadful angle for your approach shot. Good, clever design.
Like others have said it is also a fair course. Only 1 blind shot and fairly flat fairways where you don’t get much in the way of bad bounces.
It was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait to go back. It really is up there with the best of the best
What can i possibly say that has not been said? A wonderful course near a great city. Does not get much better than that. As several mentioned it is on a peninsula, thus, I would recommend later AM or afternoon tee times as it can be quite foggy in the morning. As it is slightly above sea level, some may say it lacks the sizzle of Old Head, but it is a non-fabricated test of golf.
I highly recommend it.
Portmarnock GC – often referred to as the great example of links golf in Ireland. No two consecutive holes run in the same direction, and the low sand dunes guarantee the wind will be a constant battle. There is nothing to protect you from the natural elements that embrace the peninsula which has facilitated golf since 1894. Conditioning at Portmarnock has never been better, and the head greenkeeper is fanatical about the smallest of details, especially the presentation of immaculate putting surfaces where wind is always a factor. Steep-faced bunkers and arguably the best finishing stretch in GB&I, place Portmarnock towards the top of the list when it comes to the best links in the game.
A fantastic routing is at the heart of Portmarnock’s charm. The championship 18 possesses a superb set of par 3’s along with high number of quality par 4’s. 1, 4, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17 & 18 are outstanding.
Superb course and more so than other courses in the Top 50, it can be enjoyed by players at higher handicaps. The cliche is that the course is the fairest links in the world and I can see why people say that - at least psychologically there seem to be fewer bad breaks. It has a very traditional and historical feel, but I found it decidely friendly and not stuffy in any way. Because its the home course of UCD and post graduation, students can remain members for quite a low cost, it always seems to have young players around which is nice. Conveniently to Dublin and I think a must for golf trips in that area.
Could not have enjoyed ourselves more. The course and surroundings are dripping in history and patina. Staff was very accommodating and the overall experience was as good as it gets. Make time to play this course.