The village of Portpatrick (originally called Portree) nestles under the cliffs on the southwest coast of Wigtownshire in southern Scotland. On the cliff top, Charles Orr Ewing MP, owner of Dunskey Estates, founded the golf club in 1903. The course commands magnificent views across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland some 22 miles away. The Isle of Man and Mull of Kintyre are also landforms than can be viewed with favourable weather conditions.
The original nine holes measured 1,445 yards and were laid out by Charles Hunter, the professional at Prestwick Golf Club further along the west coast. In 1913, it was decided to extend the course to 18 holes of 5,570 yards, some 343 yards shorter than its current length. There are only two par fives and four par threes on the present-day card with a par of 70. Of the twelve par fours, only one is more than 400 yards and, indeed, the driveable signature 13th 'Sandeel' and 14th 'Glenside' both measure less than 300 yards.
The term 'holiday golf' can often appear disparaging when used to describe a golf course but it is most appropriate when applied to Portpatrick Dunskey as so many of the golfers who play here are visitors – half the income for the club in 2003 came from visiting green fees – and they return for more of the same year after year. Golf World magazine described the course in 1984 as 'the number one holiday golf destination'.
Very few of the returning golfers would disagree with this description of a course that just oozes charm. Although the ground is rolling moorland and seaside heathland in nature, Portpatrick also has a very links-like feel to it in places with yellow gorse flanking many of the fairways. Greens, like the overall yardage of the course, are modest in size but that in no way detracts from the pleasure of playing the Dunskey.
The Dunskey course has been upgraded in the last few years with the introduction of bunkers, which has really tightened things up and increased the Standard Scratch Score to 69. Portpatrick Dunskey is one of Scotland's true hidden treasures and well worthy of inclusion as a gem in any of the golfing annals.
I played the Dunskey a couple of times before, in April 2006 and June 2007, but somehow never got round to writing a review for the course. After I realized this was the case when going through my “outstanding reviews” list during a recent covid lockdown period, I made up my mind to rectify the situation before the year was out. And so I travelled to Portpatrick when it was allowed during October to refresh my memory before committing my thoughts to the website.
First of all, I was surprised by the great condition of the course (not that I was expecting it to be that rough, mind you) and can only imagine there’s got to be some truth in the old “favourable micro climate” that your hear people talking about whenever you end up in the more remote coastal parts of Scotland. Tees, fairways and greens looked as if it was the middle of the summer – honestly, and I have plenty of photos taken on the day to back up what I’ve just written!
The sequence of holes from the par five 3rd to the par four 6th is especially good, making great use of a gully that has to be crossed to access the greens on the first of these two holes, and there’s a wonderful expanse of tumbling ground to cover before reaching the greens on both #5 and #6. The downhill 10th then takes you down to the coastal path running along the out of bounds on the left (the start/end of the Southern Upland Way is 500 meters away at the harbour in Portpatrick).
The 11th plays 163 yards slightly uphill across rocky, broken ground to a blind green that I think is one of the best in Scottish golf; a half pipe design which is offset to the line of play, totally natural and lie of the land. This little beauty is then followed by an absolute beast, heading straight uphill via a “sow’s back” fairway that throws everything offline before you reach the plateau green – no wonder it’s rated stroke index 2!
The 13th’s a very photogenic short par four next to Maidenhead Bay but it’s a real pity this hole is followed a couple of holes later by a very short “nothing” par three which is easily the weakest hole on the layout – surely the club must have given some thought to eradicating this one in favour of another elsewhere? For me, it’s by far the biggest let-down on an otherwise totally engaging set-up.
Nonetheless, I really enjoyed reacquainting myself with this little clifftop charmer which stretches to only 5,913 yards from the back tees (just pray that the wind’s not blowing too hard when you play here or that innocent-looking yardage will seem a lot longer).
One final point I’d like to make before finishing is to ask: “how can the Dunskey drop from #69 in the 2008 Scottish Top 100 to its current position of #97?” I honestly believe it deserves to be a good bit better off than it is right now.
I really enjoyed the course, it is a resort course, a fun track along the hillside, overlooking the sea and Northern Ireland in the distance. A really great spot with a feel of days gone past. The course is well kept and has a few memorable holes. The course is well worth a visit if you are in the area, I would pair it with Stranraer for a great day out.
Dunskey meets all the criteria of a good holiday golf course. It has fine views and is very well-conditioned. It contains a number of decent holes with one - the 13th - that is quite sensational. I would be perfectly happy to play it again if I were in that area if only to play the 13th again.
Portpatrick Dunskey is one of the best combinations of affordable green fee relative to fun golf experience I have come across. For the feeling of having reached golfing paradise on the edge of the earth, it is nearly up there with Carne Links in Mayo, Ireland from my experience. For variety of holes, stunning views, excellent condition with true rolling greens, I would have paid much more than £33 had I known what was in store.
It’s a par 70 of just under 6,000 yards with two par fives and just one par four over 400 yards, but certain uphill holes are very uphill can play quite long, particularly in strong winds of course. The start is solid, two relatively flat par fours in opposite directions without too much trouble around. Then to what is the beastliest hole on the course, aka ‘Muscle Skelp’, a 545 yard uphill par five that requires three solid shots to find the green. The 6th just shades the 9th as my favourite par four on the front nine, a downhill right-to-left hole with the approach played from an elevated position on the fairway to a green with two bunkers guarding the entrance. Here and on the 10th hole similar downhill short iron approach shots controlled into wind were required – enjoyable shots to play.
I think the par three 7th is one of the hardest holes on the course despite a stroke index of 13. An uphill 165 yards into wind with big trouble left by way of a steep bank, a ditch short and several bushes around to punish anything far askew. The 9th tee is in a nice setting close to the sea, played slightly uphill towards a smattering of houses, and is a birdie opportunity at 310 yards as long as you stay left to avoid the sand traps. The 10th is a very enjoyable downhill par four played from alongside the houses towards the sea in the background, thus setting the tone for the vista-fest that awaits midway through the inward half. Whilst the 12th is 390 yards on the card, it is directly up a very steep hill and is ranked the hardest hole on the back nine. It is on the 12th green where you are first presented with the view to the left down to Maidenhead Bay and across to Northern Ireland, just 20 miles away.
And so to the mesmerising 13th hole. Reaching the 12th green may have given the secret away already, but it is on the 13th tee where the vista is at its most epic and it can take you by surprise. The sun was out on the day I passed and Ireland was almost within touching distance, while the waters of the cove below were a tropical light blue making for a setting more Mediterranean than Scottish. The hole itself is great fun to play, a huge downhill par four playing much less than the 295 yards on the card, the green driveable in the right conditions. To have come so low you must go back high and alas the 14th is an even steeper uphill par four than the 12th, albeit not quite as long and punishing. You are still in prime vista zone on 14 until the 15th tee and it’s worth the walk to the back of the tee to catch one last glimpse of the coast before returning to the main upper section of the course, with some attractive short holes before finishing with a fine par five. The 18th at 535 yards is very reachable in two in the appropriate wind, with a welcome wide fairway and the only bunkers on the hole being at the green leaving little to punish two strong and accurate hits. The fairway meanders from right to left, then back to the right off a camber towards the green, so aim well left of the green with your second shot for the best run into the green.
Portpatrick Dunskey is well worth the visit. Spectacular scenery, a variety of memorable holes, not without considerable difficulty in places, in great condition with smooth greens and excellent value for money.
There are four things which stick in my mind about the Dunskey Course at Portpatrick GC. The first three are “location, location, location”. The course occupies an area of generally flat(ish) links-cum-heathland on the cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea and whether your scorched by sun, shrouded by sea-haar or wobbled (very wobbled!) in the wind golf here is invariably a bracing, worthwhile and dramatic experience. The fourth thing about Dunskey is the condition of the course. The fairways here are tighter and crisper than John Travolta’s white troosers in “Saturday Night Fever”. Punching a wee 7-iron (remember - grip well down, shorten that backswing and follow through) from these fairways is a near sexual experience in my opinion (note to self – make reviews less personal in future). The greens are almost always fast and true and if the wind really blows your putting stats for the year might take a serious bruising.
For me the best run of holes starts at the first tee and ends on the seventh green. In good conditions a fine golfer would be more than happy with pars through this stretch. In the wind the bumpy-runny-linksy type ground calls for great touch and imagination just to keep the card semi-respectable. Holes 8-11 offer some respite and, to be honest, are not wonderful. The 12th is a very solid, slightly uphill par 4 to a narrow green and 5 would be welcomed by all but the greediest of golfers. “Sandeel”, the 13th, is the signature hole and is a very driveable par 4 from a highly elevated tee. Skirt with the rough down the right and wait for the velodromic (note to self- buy a dictionary) contours to whistle your ball down to the hole. If you shoot five or more and can’t take any more humiliation this is a good point to jump the fence and sacrifice your self to the crashing waves of the Irish Sea. Personally, I would recommend you play on because 16 is a testing par four, 18 a good par 5 that offers a chance of birdie (or an 8 if the wind is going the wrong way) and the clubhouse offers a comfortable rest, a warm Gallovidian welcome and good plate of grub.
If you are organising a wee golf break I recommend you play nearby Stranraer for the unremitting challenge and play Dunskey (Portpatrick) for the joy of it. Dunskey is the kind of course that a non-playing partner or spouse would probably like to wander round. If not, the village of Portpatrick is arguably the quaintest in the region with a number of interesting arty-craft, nicky-nacky shops. Finally, the club have lots of open events, some of them in aid of the RNLI, so if you’re well-organised you can play this lovely venue for a pittance AND enjoy the warming satisfaction of having helped a great cause in the process. Note to self – play Dunskey again soon. Derek, Edinburgh, June 08.