Friday, February 21, 2014

Ireland's Top Ten Hidden Golf Courses (Links) - No. 1

Narin and Portnoo Irish Golf Kevin Markham
The approach to the 9th green
Stop for a minute and ask yourself something… if you could wish yourself away, right now, and stand on any hole on any Irish golf course, where would it be?

Royal County Down? Ballybunion? Mount Juliet? Druid’s Glen?

I would walk up onto the top of the dune beside the 8th tee at this beautiful Donegal course. There I would have a 360 degree view of everything that makes Ireland so special. Mountains, sea, islands, sand, rolling waves… and five of my favourite holes in the world.

Here is my top ranked hidden links course in Ireland. You can Win a Fourball to this club at the end of the blog.

Narin and Portnoo Irish Golf
A panorama from the par three 7th tee (the green is to the left
where the sea disappears from view.
For the 1st-ranked parkland, click here 
For the 2nd-ranked parkland, click here
For the 2nd-ranked links, click here
For the 3rd-ranked links, click here
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

Narin & Portnoo Golf Club

People argue that scenery doesn’t influence their decision as to whether they like a course or not. I find that hard to believe. It is part of the golf experience after all. The 8th hole at Narin & Portnoo hits down to the Atlantic and a green perched above the waves. It is as inspiring a moment as you could ask for on a golf course.

Narin and Portnoo Irish Golf
The 15th above the beach.
And if that doesn’t float your boat, go and stand on the 9th tee and repeat the process.

That Narin and Portnoo remains ‘hidden’ is unbelievable. Golf writers love it. Perhaps, like Connemara, Carne and Ceann Sibeal, its lack of nearby links companions and its isolation on the Atlantic’s shoreline make it a destination too far for some.

I have spoken to many golfers who, after the joys of Enniscrone, Rosses Point and Donegal, have headed north-east to Rosapenna, Portsalon (see No. 3 above) and Ballyliffin on the N15 Letterkenny road, rather than taking the coastal N56 route which would take them past Narin and Portnoo, as well as Cruit Island (see No. 5 above). It is a crying shame to miss two such beautiful courses.

The natural rhythm of the fairways is illustrated
by the shadows in the
chasm which leads up to the 5th green.
This course once held similarities to Mulranny GC (see No. 10 above… and yes, I am enjoying myself) with its protective fencing around greens to keep cattle at bay. But the last cow was removed in 2002. Things then changed further between 2004 and 2007, as the course got an upgrade that took it from par 69 to par 73 in one fell swoop. Thanks to the designs of Eddie Connaughton, it now has muscle and length, exemplified by the ridge of high and heavy dunes in the centre of the course that is home to much of the new layout. There can be few golf courses (and none in Ireland) that can boast three consecutive par fives – the last of which (the 15th) is a spectacular hole above a spectacular beach - It is well worth a visit... if not immediately after an errant drive from the 15th tee.

And yet the course’s charming character remains. Around here, pretentiousness is a dirty word... quickly lost on the Atlantic breeze or in the merry conversation of the clubhouse bar.

Narin and Portnoo Irish Golf
That View. From the top of the 8th - the flag is by the sea, on
the left of the image.
When I was on my Hooked travels I met one of the club’s oldest members on the aforementioned 8th tee. He jokingly complained that it was now too big an ask for him to play the newly extended course. You only have to look at Strandhill (see No. 2 above) and its par 69 to appreciate that on a windy day it can give you a brutal beating. Length and par don’t mean too much on a links… but three par fives on the trot might leave you broken!

The Holes

I won’t pretend that every hole is of the magnitude and thrills of 6 to 11 and 14 to 16 – if they were you’d be drained of every millilitre of adrenaline by the turn – but you can use them to ease yourself in or pause for breath. And the 1st hole offers glimpses of the fun that lies ahead… the 2nd may have you avoiding swans and the 4th will give you a real shot at the bump and run that will be so necessary here. 
Narin and Portnoo Irish Golf
The clubhouse from the 1st tee.
Narin & Portnoo is pure, natural adventure. The tip of land at the farther-most corner of the course, where dunes bow down to the ocean’s might, is as heavenly a place as any golfer could imagine. Here are the five holes that can be seen from that 8th tee; here is where you must pause and allow the moment to be imprinted on your memory. It will last a lifetime.

The clubhouse is lovely and embracing. It is new, cosy… and modest. No grand designs here, and you must still drive through a mobile home park to reach the course. It only emphasises the quirky, unique aura of the place. And perhaps one of the most inspiring, goosebump-raising moments comes when you drive towards the village of Narin, from Ardara, and the seascapes open up below you. There, dead centre, is that ridge of dunes, those distant flags, those swathes of green fairway luring you down the last few hundred yards to Ireland’s greatest hidden gem.
Narin and Portnoo Irish Golf
Views over the dunes of Narin and Portnoo from the road.

Green Fees: €25 - €70

Free Fourball
To win a free fourball for Narin & Portnoo, leave a Comment below with your name, email and the answer to the following question:
In what year were cows finally removed from the course?
(Comments will remain unpublished to ensure privacy)

Draw closes at 10pm on Tuesday 25th February.