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. One of the leading golf magazines 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.
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.