Monday, March 31, 2014

Portmarnock and the Art of Golfing Subtlety

View of the clubhouse and practice green from
the 9th fairway
March… the kind of month that has more swings than a kids’ playground when it comes to the weather. Which means being an Aries is fraught with birthday-golf danger. I tried to get a group of friends to play on my birthday a few years back. I had the Open Fairways card so we played Powerscourt East at a good rate… but after 9 holes four of the guys walked in. The other four persevered in a driving rain that rendered waterproof gear useless.

The following year, not one of the seven was prepared to risk another outing. Days like that live long in the memory.

Yet March is a great month for golf. The seasons are changing, there’s that crispness to the air and the fairways are relatively quiet. And, when it comes to links golf, you play the course as it is meant to be played, with a two, three or even four club wind and with your cheeks chilled!

The side view of Portmarnock's 6th green, from the 7th tee box
I was invited to play at Portmarnock – the original – on Friday, by Ally McIntosh. There have been changes here and, while not radical, the revisions to greens by Hawtree have been well received. Besides, the gorse was out and that added plenty of colour on a day that blew cold in a watery sunlight. Ally had invited John, myself and a young man by the name of Hunter Rigsby.

Hunter in full swing
Hunter is studying Landscape Architecture at UCD, focusing on golf course design. More on him later… but as Ally is a golf course architect (Carne’s new 9) there was much common ground for the two of them to cover.

Ally finds his ball in the gorse forest on the 9th
Portmarnock makes the world’s top 100 courses every time there’s a new ranking produced. It’s a classic; it’s a strategist’s and links purist’s dream; it flows like silk. This is a course where the word to remember is subtlety. I played The European the day before, where dunes are bigger and hitting fairways is at a premium… at Portmarnock you go one step further – you have to hit the fairways in the right place to gain access to well-protected greens... and that's where the subtlety comes in. Bunkers fronting greens can hide 20-40 yards of dead ground and at 6,701 yards from the green tees, it is not short (the blue tees measure 7,466 yards, while the whites measure 6,926).

Be gentle as Portmarnock can be a cruel mistress.

The Open Championship will never be held here, but it has that aura and shape to it. The dunes aren’t big, but they don’t need to be – the wind will quite happily pick you apart, knowing you have nowhere to hide.

 And some more photographs:

The par three 12th - the pin is behind the bunker on the right (see next pic)

The 12th green - a nightmare to get up on this one if you're short

Ally plays out on the 16th - John watches

One of Portmarnock's most famous holes - the par three 15th

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