Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ireland's Top Ten Hidden Golf Courses - No. 3 (Links)

Just some of the views from the 2nd tee.
The top three links in this Top Ten of Ireland's Fairways Less Travelled all hail from the north west corner of this glorious island. This is where the best links value is to be found and it is also home to several of the gems many visiting golfers do not consider. We've already had Cruit Island (at number 5), and here starts the big three.

Portsalon is the Number 3 Links.

For the 3rd-ranked parkland, click here
For the 4th-ranked, click here
For the 5th-ranked, click here
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

Portsalon Golf Club

If you want history, then look no further. Portsalon is one of Ireland’s oldest golf courses (established 1891) and one of the four founding members of the GUI. And yet it doesn’t always slot into that ‘must play’ category of visiting golfers touring the northern coastline, because it is still not given the recognition it deserves. Considering the beauty of the location, the history of the course (some original holes remain) and the stretch of holes that tear along the golden strand, that is utterly bizarre. Add in the 2nd hole – one of the best holes on the island... maybe the world – and this is a wonderful links experience at an amazing green fee.

Views down the 6th
I’ve heard people gripe about the tame finish, where a couple of holes away from the sea play like parkland, but that’s true of nearby Royal Portrush and Portstewart. And neither of the two Northern Ireland courses can intimidate golfers with a tomb of ship-wrecked sailors beneath their 18th fairway.  [Story LINK]

The course starts and finishes with big curves, which quickly settle down once the river is crossed and the dunes take over… but that would be to rush past the 2nd hole, with its high tee, views over Ballymacstocker Bay and Knockalla Mountain. This beast of a dog-leg drives over the beach and river (if you dare) and still leaves a tough approach that has to cross the river once again. It demands two of your best shots… and you’ve barely warmed up.

The remarkable 2nd hole (named Strand)
The holes thereafter are beautiful links holes, rippling between low dunes that direct the course’s natural flow. There is a simplicity to them that is both natural and rewarding... and challenging. Paul McGinley has been giving some guidance here [link to 2011 blog] and his work is still in progress. Bunkers have been relocated or removed to give holes more space… or more danger, but the putting surfaces (there are double greens here) remain as smooth as ever.

Yes, some of the final holes turn inland but that is inevitable, and while that perfect links rhythm is interrupted late in the round the holes still play strong. And besides, after you've walked off the brilliant and curving 13th and 14th par four holes (named Greenfort and Matterhorn) you'll need to draw breath. The 13th may be one of designer Pat Ruddy's favourite holes, but the 14th remains untouched, promises spectacular views and weaves back and forth between dune and rock. The drive is almost as terrifying as the 2nd. 

And as you start your trip up the slopes of the 18th you will be sorely tempted to slip across to the 2nd tee alongside and start over. I certainly did.

I was lucky enough to visit Portsalon twice on my travels. The first time I took a buggy and didn’t play (I had an injured toe… as lame as that sounds), but I altered my schedule so that I could get back to play it a few days later. Something this good has to be played, no matter how many strokes it takes… 94 if I recall.

And if you're coming this far, you should also slip across to the Inishowen Peninsula on the other side of Lough Swilly and play North West Golf Club... one of the other founding members of the GUI. As here at Portsalon, it gives you a taste for what the golden age of links design feels like.

Views over the 13th green down 14.

Green Fees: €30 - €50

Free Fourball
To win a free fourball for Portsalon, leave a Comment below with your nameemail and answer to the following question: 

What is the name of the ship that sank 
on December 4th 1811, off Ballymacstocker Strand? 
(Comments will remain unpublished to ensure privacy.)

Draw closes on Thurs 23rd January at 6pm, at which point a winner will be chosen. 

1 comment:

  1. From: Richard Quinn
    Answer: HMS Saldanha