Portmarnock is the ancestral family estate of the famous Jameson whiskey family. The Jameson’s once had a nine-hole golf course here and the land is now incorporated into the Portmarnock Golf Club and the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.
This is the links that Bernhard Langer designed in conjunction with landscape architect Stan Eby and, in 1996, the Golf Links opened for play. The course borders its illustrious neighbour, Portmarnock Golf Club, but the two courses are separately owned and managed.
For such a new layout, the Hotel Links is a very understated course. There is nothing showy about the design; the natural links land is used simply and effectively. The first eight holes play across gently-undulating ground with definition provided by varied grasses and pot bunkers. Then, around the turn, a cluster of shaggy sand dunes provides a much more pronounced aspect.
We think that Langer and Eby have developed one of the best and most challenging new courses in Ireland; it’s joyous to play a youngster that is so natural and honest. Langer’s comment on his creation was: “There are very few locations in Europe which could have allowed me the opportunity and landscape to design such a classic championship links. I hope all those who play it discover its magic and its challenging beauty.” We thoroughly agree.
An obvious change is the position of the first tee; originally it was very close to the car park and too close to the right side of the hole. Now it has moved 100 yards left, stands high and overlooks the fairway plus a there is a great view back over the 18th green and fairway – a huge positive. Although the front 9 has a par of 36 and the back 9 is 35 …. I think that the front nine is easier to score on. There are plenty of notable holes on the course but my personal favourites start at the 8th; a semi-blind tee shot with the potential for a blind shot to the green (depending on your tee shot length). The 9th looks easy from the tee but is not; a par-3 at only 160 yards (white tee) but with run-offs on three sides and the normal wind against, par is great score. The 11th is another par-3 and after now playing this course eight times since my first outing in 2004, I can declare this as my favourite hole…again not overly long (150 yards from the white tee) with a slightly elevated green that has to be hit as the run-up shot is not really an option – The green slopes from left to right and there is some great use of the land just off of the putting surface that make any chips back to the green very testing; stick the flag on the left of this green and this becomes very tough.
I think the best run of three holes together come right at the end, par-4 16th is all about the tee shot; needs about a 180 yard carry to reach the fairway and depending on the conditions, this is either pretty straight forward or a very frightening. The 17th is yet another tough par-3 that is all carry to the green and to finish the round is a beautiful par-4 at around 400 yards – elevated tee, left to right shape of hole and a protected green on three sides. There are many golfers that would automatically choose Portmarnock’s Old course over the Links course and I can understand that but I am sure many would also have them the other way around. The problem is that the comparison is not just course against course, it is course versus a world famous course with plenty of history and plenty of historical rankings behind it – in time maybe the rankings of both courses will become closer.