Friday, January 3, 2014

Ireland's Top Ten Hidden Golf Courses - No. 5

Approach to the 5th at Cruit Island.
As we hit the top five of Ireland's Best Fairways Less Travelled, we head to the remotest north coastline and the heart of Ireland, in Co. Laois.

One is a nine hole course that is mentioned in mystical tones, its remoteness putting it beyond the reach of many Irish golfers; the other is a sweet parkland, rarely mentioned by anyone. 

Parkland: Portarlington
Links: Cruit Island

You can win four balls to both of these 5th-ranked courses (follow the link below). 
For the 6th-ranked, click here 
For the 7th-ranked, click here 
For the 8th-ranked, click here
For the 9th-ranked, click here

For the 10th-ranked, click here.

Cruit Island

I made a deal with myself when I wrote Hooked: no nine hole courses allowed. And yet there are two on this ‘hidden gems’ list. I couldn’t fit them into Hooked but if there is one course that deserves to be there, it is Donegal’s Cruit Island.
The incredible par three 6th at Cruit Island.

Never mind the enchanting drive across the thin spit of land that sits between Rosses Bay and Inishfree Bay; never mind passing Daniel O’Donnell’s old house; never mind that attitude people have towards nine hole golf courses… Cruit Island is a peach.

You’ll need to play it twice (just as well it's a nine hole course then) to appreciate its brilliance and to understand just what is expected of you. Here there is no such thing as level ground – the landscape is a combination of trampoline and rollercoaster, with dunes springing up all over the place, some with fairways clinging to the sides. The views of islands, ocean and distant mountains are beautiful, the sea embracing several holes and, in the 6th, Cruit Island has a world-class par three. The 3rd, 5th and 7th ain’t too shabby either. Every hole, 1 to 9, is thrilling but the 6th will live long in the memory (see pic above), hitting over an inlet of tall rock and crystal clear water to a pulpit green and a backdrop of heaven. It's that usual cliche of 'which club will it be today?' - wedge or three wood?... but the consequences for choosing incorrectly are severe.
Views over the 9th green and down the 7th at Cruit Island.
Many golfers may feel that it is too far to come for a nine hole course, but then the world can not boast many courses quite like Cruit Island, and some of the tee boxes for the back nine are separated enough to make the tee shots different.

If you play in the summer, when the Americans have arrived, you may find Cruit plays slowly... this is because the apex of the crest that drops to the 3rd green has become famous, thanks to Tom Coyne's 'A Course Called Ireland'. This is where the Americans pose for photographs, with the green below and the views across to Gweedore beyond.

Don’t expect the course to be fair to you – that’s not the way it works… but do expect to be thrilled by the doglegs, the rises and falls and the sheer exuberance of the place.

Green Fees: €25

The par three 3rd at Portarlington


The thing about this 100 year old course (1908) is that it is just about perfect. Portarlington is a friendly place – smart but with no airs and graces – and where the course is the centre of attention. Sure, it's a flat course, whereas I normally prefer hilly courses that offer up inspiring drives and thrilling approaches, but Portarlington is more like that ad with the sexy Cadbury’s Caramel bunny – all about slowing it down and taking it easy. Oh, and looking good.

The lethal par four 7th.
The terrain wanders through mature trees at a leisurely, steady rhythm. There is room to play, but the wayward will suffer... that, after all, is the punishment when there are big trees around. The 7th hole is Index 1 and is so tight between the oaks and beech that you’ll be lifting your head long before you hit the ball... if only because there’s the worry that red squirrels might make off with your ball. The hole is as terrifying as it is beautiful. The 15th delivers a similar experience. In fact, the burst of brilliance that is holes 14 to 17 lifts Portarlington to the highest level: two holes cling to the River Barrow while the other two demand accuracy between the trees.
Portarlington's 16th. The par four drifts right.
The rest of the holes are strong, too, with nice touches everywhere. Greens are tricky - some are flat, some have big curves - but they all make attractive targets. There are times when you’ll feel cocooned from the outside world, making Portarlington another of those peaceful, enchanting courses. And while the clubhouse at Cruit Island is small and functional, Portarlington's has more space with all the facilities you could want of a golf course.

Green Fees: €10 - €30

Free Fourballs
To win a free four ball for both Portarlington and Cruit Island leave a Comment below with your name, email and answer to the following question: 

Whose former residence do you pass on the way to Cruit Island? 
(Comments will remain unpublished to ensure privacy.)

Draw closes on 7th January at 6pm, at which point a winner will be chosen.


  1. Daniel O Donnell
    Declan Basquille

    That review makes me want to visit cruit island

  2. Love Portarlington, lovely greens and nice holes along the river from 14 to 17.

  3. Cruit Island is as good as the review suggests....and even better! This is Links golf at its purest and is a great reward for taking the trouble to find this gem. Visit Cruit and you will be better for the experience.
    Brian Molloy

  4. Cruit Island is just like a lover. She can break your heart, you forgive but never forget.

    Pat Malone

  5. I played here a few years back great laid back clubhouse. Par 3 over the cliffs on the green 3 foot from hole will never forget it. A must play. micheal.