Portsalon Golf Club
Designers: Mr. Thompson (?) from Portrush, circa 1890
Bernard Darwin, grandson of Charles and one of the greatest golf writers ever, described Portsalon as “a perfectly lovely spot.” And so it is. Located in County Donegal on the west shore of Lough Swilly, a finger of the Atlantic, the beach at Portsalon was decreed by a group of travel writers in the early 1990’s to be the second most beautiful beach in the world; others have compared it favorably with Pebble Beach.
Portsalon began as a fashionable resort and watering hole for wealthy Victorians. Two world wars and the decline of the idle rich (alas) brought on a slow and steady decline. After the local hotel burned, the club was reduced to collecting what green fees there were at nearby Rita’s Bar. The course was well on its way to reverting to nature when a group of concerned locals, many of whose fathers and grandfathers had worked for the hotel, purchased the course by staging a lottery and selling 1000 tickets @ £100 each. Since then, the course has been lovingly restored and visitors have rediscovered this marvelous little gem.
The course layout has remained basically the same since 1891 when the club became one of the founding members of the Irish Golfing Union. Quirky 19th century would be a good way to describe it; a rather bizarre version of Scotland’s Prestwick with lichen covered rocks guarding the fairways instead of dunes. No less than six holes cross each other. For instance, players teeing off on the blind uphill par three 12th hit over the 11th green. The members are considering revamping the course to eliminate these crossing holes, so one may not be able to experience what golf was like in 1890 here much longer.
The first three opening holes are quite extraordinary. The first hole is a 370-yard par four, dogleg left that skirts a seawall and cliff adjacent to the shore. The second is a par three played below this very same wall that requires a 200-yard shot over the beach to a green jutting out into Ballymastocker Bay. The third is a par four played along the beach to a green guarded by two dolmen-like rock formations.
At 5880 yards, the course does not require a muscular effort, but it does insist that one use his brain. There is enough challenge here for anyone.
Directions for the independent traveller: Take the R245 to Rathmelton, then the R247 coastal road north to Portsalon. Once in Portsalon, the club can not be missed.