My last trip around Ireland was with Gary Prendergast who is involved in golf course design with the well known firm of Thomson, Perrett in Melbourne. We had 30 days so even some fairly remote areas were well and truly on the agenda. On our way to the two courses at Ballyliffin we visited Portsalon located on the R 238 near the town of Buncrana. Later we stopped and looked at North West and then Dunfanaghy links. Both looked very flat, only moderately interesting and were only part links.
Portsalon has been around in one form or another since 1891. It stretches along the shores of Lough Swilly. There are some interesting holes such as the 2nd where you skirt the beach with your drive and then negotiate the river in front of the green - this could be the end of your day in a stroke round. Holes 3 - 9 are amongst low dunes and the 6th is right beside the ocean. Holes 13 and 14 are attractive but potentially dangerous and holes 17 and 18 feature a burn and OOB. They have found a way here around public liability problems for those accessing the beach. The walkway is below ground with a cage like structure running across the 1st and18th fairways. In summary - a well maintained sporty course which is worth playing if you are in the area.
Ballyliffin was previously on the itinerary primarily for the Glashedy Links but now that Faldo has helped with the upgrade of the Old Links then you have two good reasons to visit. The Glashedy is long off the back tees at 7226 yards. The par 5, 13th stands out in my memory. It heads uphill from the sea to a green guarded by a narrow entrance through low dunes. The par 3, 14th has an attractive green amongst the dunes as you head back towards the landmark Glashedy Rock. Some of the greens are two tiered and are quite large. Both courses feature excellent revetted bunkers which can often be difficult to see from the distance. The Glashedy is fun to play and has few weaknesses -but forget about the back tees if you want to enjoy your game.
A little further west near the R245 you will hopefully find Rosapenna near the tiny village of Downings and Sheephaven Bay. Pat Ruddy has been largely involved in the design of the Sandy Hills Links and the newer holes on the Old Tom Morris Links. The owners have built a very nice hotel complex so you can stay on site if you wish.
The dunes are compressed here but seem to run forever. Many holes twist and turn through the natural valleys and greens are often in attractive dell settings. At Sandy Hills the standout hole is the 6th where you initially drive through dunes and then down hill for the second shot to a green framed by the sea inlet not far behind.
Despite the dunes and bending fairways there is little in the way of blind shots with most tees elevated. The bunkers were the only disappointing aspect at Rosapenna.
Photo Par 4, 6th at Rosapenna's Sandy Hills Links (photo courtesy Tim Browne)
Before venturing down the coastal N 56 to Donegal it would worth the detour to play the nine holer at Cruit Island. I regret that I did not have time to go there but looking at the photos it would be lots of fun playing this very natural little seaside course.
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