These last 6 days have brought me to some spectacular settings. My first stop was a little 18 hole track in Donegal called the Northwest Golf Club. It is a spot most folks have not heard of but it has been around for over 100 years and is a founding member of the Golfing Union of Ireland. I arrived at the club in an absolute downpour only to find the door to the pro shop was locked. I noticed a few people out on the course so I ventured out, figuring I would pay upon completion of the round. A soggy 3 hours and 18 holes later, I returned to the pro shop only to find the door was still locked. Believing it was the right thing to do -and to protect my ‘golf karma’- I took out some money and slipped it under the door. Northwest will not be mistaken for Royal County Down or Lahinch but I found it to be a fun little links. What made my round even more interesting was that I did not have a scorecard (locked in the shop)- so I had to make a few educated guesses along the way…..
Rosapenna was my next stop. This facility offers two 18-hole championship links courses; Old Tom Morris and Sandy Hills. What I like most about this facility is the fact that each course presents it own unique test of golf. The Old Tom Morris course, designed by its namesake, is a much more traditional links in the vain of the famed St. Andrews. The fairways are flatter and wider but the greens and bunkers are a true test-- you can make a big number in a hurry. On two holes you actually have to hit across the town’s main road (which was probably a dirt path when this course was designed back in the late 1800’s). I found it to be a wonderful links despite the fact that we were temporarily chased off the course due to the driving rains that came in. The Sandy Hills course, which only opened in 2003, offers a much different experience with links running through a series of massive dunes presenting you with elevation changes, tall rough and uneven lies. Accuracy off the tee here is crucial- my playing partners found this out the hard way on the first 5 or 6 holes. Both courses were in excellent shape and the round was perfectly topped off with a pint and hot bowl of soup in the new golf pavilion. Rosapenna is located in the little town of Downings and if you are ever in the area you need to stop into The Singing Pub. This thatched-roof pub up on the hill guarantees a great night of music and craic, as I can attest. Not to mention a wee little headache the next morning.
For the next leg of the journey, I headed south out of Rosapenna to a wonderful little links course called Narin & Portnoo and for the first time all trip, I got lost trying to find the place—not bad considering all the miles I have logged thus far! I was greeted by one of the members of the club, Tom Plunkett who was a fantastic host. He joined me for the round with the challenge of a match- to which, of course, I accepted. Tom is the principal at the local school and he provided me with some excellent background on the course as well as the surrounding area. Narin & Portnoo have recently finished extensive renovations and this links is definitely worth taking the time (and skill) to get here. The views from the holes are truly amazing, especially the 10th. This breathtaking par 4 runs down the hill and out to a green that is nestled out into the bay. It is as fun a links hole as you will find anywhere in the world. The secret is to NOT hit it into the 11th fairway off the tee- the unfortunate route I chose. The tee for the 11th hole extends right out into the water and in the late summer dolphins can be seen up close frolicking in the bay. In addition to being a wonderful little links, this is one of the better values in Ireland with greens fees averaging 60 Euros.
After a very enjoyable experience at Narin & Portnoo I headed south to Donegal Golf Club. There I joined up with a group of 6 Americans who provided great company for my round. One of the golfers in my foursome turned out to be a 16 year veteran of the LPGA and current member of the Legends Tour. It’s refreshing to watch someone take a swing at a golf ball with sound mechanics. The sun was out for much of the day but the wind kicked up to a steady 30-35 mph. Holes into the wind played so much longer that a bogey on the par 4’s into the wind are great scores. Donegal is a natural links providing a nice variety of holes as well as wonderful views of Donegal Bay. The course has only been in existence since 1959 but it looks as though it has been there forever. After the round, we retired to the pub in the spacious, modern clubhouse and watched a bit of a hurling match on TV. Hurling is a gaelic sport and they say it is the fastest field sport in the world. I just think they are plain crazy. If you don’t know what hurling is, look it up on the internet and you will think the boys in the NFL have it pretty easy.
I am off to Sligo, Mayo and Galway and will check back in a few days.
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