Portmarnock Golf Club
Designers: Mungo Park,
On a narrow peninsula just outside of the Dublin city limits lies one of the finest links courses in Ireland. As early as 1858, John Jameson – the famous distiller – fashioned a course on his property for his own enjoyment. Some years later, friends William Pickeman and George Ross rowed across the inlet on Christmas Eve and discovered the outstanding potential Jameson’s property had for golf. The three men came together, and in 1894 the Portmarnock Golf Club was officially born.
With the help of Mungo Park – the 1874 Open Champion and brother of Willie – Pickeman supervised construction of Portmarnock’s first 9-hole course, which two years later he extended to a full 18-holes. As a testament to both Pickeman’s dedication to the project and the exceptional quality of the links, the championship course at Portmarnock is still mostly comprised of this original layout.
While many of the links courses in Ireland are best known for their towering dunes, the land at Portmarnock is far more subdued. The wrinkled fairways weave their way through sandhills and are protected by deep pot bunkers and even deeper fescue rough. It’s an entirely natural links, but one that is also praised for its fairness. Good shots are rewarded appropriately, while bad ones will meet their equally deserved fate.
A perfect example is found on the delightful opening hole, which is pressed hard against the inlet waters to the right. Take the bold line off the tee and we’re rewarded with a relatively straightforward approach, but steer away from the water and things get a little more complicated. The same holds true ahead on the 4th, where the #1 stroke index subconsciously leads us up the left side to avoid a collection of pot bunkers. If there’s to be any hope of holding this tricky green, however, it must be from the right side off the tee.
As it reaches its end, only then does the round at Portmarnock truly begin. Bernard Darwin once lamented “I know of no greater finish in the world than that of the last 5 holes at Portmarnock” and this closing stretch more than lives up to that hyperbole. The par-4 14th usually plays downwind, which may partially explain how Irish great Joe Carr managed to record an ace here. This is followed by what Ben Crenshaw famously called the “the shortest par-5 I’ve ever played.” It actually happens to be one of the greatest par-3s in golf.
A run of par-4s sees us to the clubhouse, where we find an outstanding collection of memorabilia from over a century of golf history. Portmarnock has played host to the Irish Open some 19 times, and up until 2014 was the only course outside of Great Britain to hold the Amateur Championship. Quite a journey for a club that began with a yuletide exploration by two golfers in a rowboat.