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By Brian Keogh
The Royal Dublin
Dublin is a growing modern city, the tech capital of Europe, booming with foreign investment, but its historic golf courses are often an insight into its storied past
Royal Dublin, for example, is Ireland’s second oldest club, situated on Bull Island on the Dollymount Strand. It was instituted at a meeting held all the way back in 1885 on Grafton Street and one of the island’s premier links courses has seen the world’s best players play on it for hundreds of years. The club once hosted the greatest pioneer in the history of the game, Old Tom Morris, who played two matches there in 1894.
Some of the world’s best golfers from Jack Nicklaus to Lee Trevino to Greg Norman to Ernie Els have played at Royal Dublin, while it was also a favourite of former US President Bill Clinton and showbiz stars
Bob Hope and Sean Connery. Both Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros won Irish Opens there in the 1980s. Bull Island is also home to another classic links in St Anne’s Golf Club, a tight course with holes nearby and parallel to each other, where the final three holes will send you to the clubhouse with a smile.
Portmarnock Golf Club
Links courses may be more associated with the West of Ireland and the Wild Atlantic Way, but there are few more treasured links in the world than Portmarnock Golf Club, which will host the Amateur Championship in 2019. Just 12 miles from the city centre, it is regularly voted among the best golf courses in the world.
It has a long history of hosting golf tournaments, including the 1960 Canada Cup, when an American team of Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead won the trophy. Portmarnock was Palmer’s first ever experience of links golf and Palmer fell in love with the course and that type of game. Upon returning home to America, he said: “I recall saying to Sam that every aspect of our games was examined that week. It’s the first time I’ve played a course like this one, and I’ve learnt a lot of shots - shots I’ve never played before in my life.”
The King would go on to win the 1961 and 1962 Open, and his love of links would later inspire him to design Tralee Golf Links in Kerry, a magnificent course almost the equal of the great Dublin course. Portmarnock has been played by the best in golf, from Tom Watson to Phil Mickelson to Seve Ballesteros, who won the Carroll’s Irish Open there in 1986.
The course has not held an Irish Open since 2003 but has been used by the best golfers in the world to tune up for The Open, including former World Number 1 Dustin Johnson. Tiger Woods used to play at Portmarnock en route to his record-breaking displays at golf’s oldest championship.
Portmarnock Golf Club
Bernhard Langer won the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portmarnock in 1987 and he liked the area so much that he came back less than a decade later to create the wonderful Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links beside the famous links. The Hotel course is more accessible than its older brother and combines the charm of a traditional style layout with the challenges of the modern game.“Coming here has been instrumental in preparing for the British Open, not only for getting me adjusted to the time difference but also for getting used to playing links golf,” Woods said. “We’ve played Portmarnock just about every year. It’s one of the most enjoyable links courses I have had the opportunity to play.”
A trip around Dublin’s premier links courses wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the magnificent The Island Golf Club, near Donabate in north Dublin. It is bordered on three sides by water, its massive dunes are its only protection from the winds that appear to blow almost incessantly.
The Island was once only accessible by boat - golfers rowed across the estuary from Malahide from its founding in 1890 until 1973 when the burgeoning membership opted for the car as its preferred mode of access. The Island will host the qualifying rounds of the Amateur Championship in 2019, and this par-71 challenge is far from easy. Darren Clarke has fond memories of The Island, and shot an eight-under-par, course record 63 there, in the second round of the Irish PGA Championship.
The Island Golf Club
When in the area, check out the wonderful Corballis Links with its rugged beauty and lovely views. It is also a very accessible course with its very reasonable green fees among the best value for money in Ireland.
Moving away from links courses, there are several excellent parkland set-ups in the north of the county, a short drive from the city centre. Balbriggan Golf Club, just 15 minutes from Dublin Airport, has been newly developed by Eddie Connaughton with USGA standard sand-based greens and tee boxes along mature tree-lined fairways and well-placed hazards.
One of the more scenic locations to play golf in Dublin is Howth Golf Club, meandering across the Hill of Howth, featuring panoramic views of Dublin Bay and the north Dublin coast. Situated in the picturesque fishing town, it has a selection of world-class seafood restaurants to enjoy after the round.
St Margaret’s Golf Club
North of the city, there are also newer additions like St Margaret’s, Roganstown and Hollywood Lakes that ensure a fun day out. If staying in the city centre and looking for a budget option, there are some public courses accessible by Dublin’s expansive public transport system of rail, tram and bus.
Access the 4 bus to arrive at Silloge Park Golf Club, access Elm Park Golf Club and Deer Park Golf Club from the Dart line. Designed by Eddie Hackett, Malahide Golf Club combines the pleasant ambience of parkland with a whiff of salty sea air.
In the north-west of the county, you’ll find the excellent Luttrellstown Castle Resort. Cast by the same design team that created the likes of Turnberry and Royal St George’s, Luttrellstown is an impressive venue with a great course in excellent condition. The clubhouse facilities further complement the wonderful on-course experience.
Not far from Luttrellstown is Hermitage Golf Club, a quality parkland course popular with the rich and famous. Blessed with a verdant, rolling setting, it is within the part of the beautiful Liffey Valley known as the Strawberry Beds.
Luttrellstown Castle Resort
Head for the leafy suburbs of Dublin, south of the River Liffey and you will find an abundance of great courses. The course at Castle Golf Club is located in what was Rathfarnham Castle estate and is an excellent test laid out in two loops of nine holes with a sting in the tail.
2014 Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley learned the game at neighbouring course at The Grange and another Ryder Cup star, Eamon Darcy, was assistant professional there. Situated in the foothills of the Dublin mountains, just 15 minutes from the city centre, it has been voted the best parkland course in Dublin by Golf Digest.
McGinley won the World Cup with good friend Padraig Harrington in 1997. Three-time major winner Harrington was a member of another Rathfarnham club, Stackstown, which sits high above the city in the Dublin mountains, offering panoramic views of the metropolis and its golfing delights.
Visitors can bask in the history of Harrington’s major wins at Stackstown with the ‘Harrington Room’, where one can see the trophies and memorabilia of the Irishman’s great achievements.
Stackstown Golf Club
“One of the underestimated tourist destinations is staying in the centre of Dublin city and travelling from there,” Harrington said. “You probably have half a dozen great links courses within 30-40 minutes of where you are staying. It’s a great golfing destination.”
It is hard to argue with Harrington. As the nation’s capital, Dublin serves as a superb access point to visit the many fantastic courses across the island. But it sometimes easy to forget how great golf is in the county itself. And with the capital attracting most tourists who come to Ireland every year, golf must rank as one of our most hidden assets.