Sport Golf

Sunday 25 February 2018

Capital gains

Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links is a golfing jewel in the heart of Dublin

Portmarnock Links has benefited from some serious investment
Portmarnock Links has benefited from some serious investment

Brian Keogh

The next time you caress that emerald green bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey in your fingers, take a closer look at the family crest at the bottom of the label and you will notice the Latin inscription 'Sine Metu' - Without Fear.

We're told the coat of arms was awarded to the Jameson family for fighting pirates off the Scottish coast and when John Jameson stepped off a ship from his native Scotland to set up the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin in 1780, he had to be brave to succeed in the booming, brawling Dublin of the day.

Another view of the Portmarnock Links
Another view of the Portmarnock Links

That Ireland's most famous whiskey was founded by a Scotsman is nothing unusual, and it is not so strange either that the site of his Dublin home - the old St Marnock's Estate by Dublin bay in Portmarnock - is now inextricably linked with golf.

Like many other Scots living and working on the east coast at the time - Thomas Gilroy was involved in the creation of Royal Dublin, Laytown and Bettystown and County Louth - golf was a passion. Jameson built a 12-hole course on the links land that is today occupied by the magnificent, Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links championship course, created by two-time Masters and three-time Irish Open champion Bernhard Langer.

The Jameson lands were also the site of the founding of the peninsula's other great course, the world-famous Portmarnock Golf Club - the clubhouse roof of which can be seen in the distance as you play the 11th, 12th and 13th on Langer's magnificent creation.

When it opened in 1995, Portmarnock Links, as it is popularly known, was unique worldwide as the only links golf resort in a capital city. It remains the only one to this day, with the added bonus that a change of owner has brought with it a major investment in the course and the hotel.

A view of the course at Portmarnock
A view of the course at Portmarnock

It's little wonder that Walker Cup heroes Jack Hume and Gavin Moynihan, and top amateurs such as Lisa and Leona Maguire and Olivia Mehaffey, are regular visitors.

It's never polite to talk about money, but over the past 12 months more than €1 million has been lavished on the links by Kennedy Wilson Europe Real Estate, who bought the property in 2014 for an estimated €30m, which is less than half what the previous owners Capel Developments had spent before the financial crisis hit hard.

The 176-acre site is a true jewel and the resort is now shining brightly once more - as befits a high-quality product set bang in the heart of one of Europe's great capitals.

The upgrading of the course has been hugely welcomed, with new turf pathways and a new first tee with wooden starter's hut a fitting place to set off for battle.

The new high tee at the first is reminiscent of Kingsbarns in terms of its panoramic view. Here you can climb the steps and look out at the great Velvet Strand and pick out the islands of Ireland's Eye and Lambay and the headland at Howth.

The smarter patrons will also note the pin positions on the 17th and 18th before firing a missile down the first, where the graveyard on the right is a good line, so long as you stay out of the cavernous pot bunkers that guard that side.

Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links features more than 100 sand traps and around 65 of the most prominent ones have been newly revetted for 2016 by head greenkeeper Fintan Brennan.

Fintan knows every inch of the course having worked there with Stan Eby, the designer from European Golf Design who was called in to carry out the plans of the inimitable Langer in April 1993.

If you've never been to Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, the four-star seafront hotel is built around the old Jameson family home and offers sweeping views of the bay and a sea view from most of the 138 bedrooms, which have been renovated by the new owners as part of a major refurbishment of the hotel.

Overseeing the investment programme for the new owners is Barry O'Connor, who has previously been involved in the creation of both Doonbeg and Killeen Castle.

Speaking about the plans for the hotel and golf course, he said the intention was to highlight the Jameson connections in the refurbished property.

"We attract a large number of both American and European tourists, initially drawn here for the opportunity to play a great links golf course," he said. "They are fascinated with the connections to the Jameson family and always want to know more. It is our intention to highlight this rich history".

He also said that while international tourism business was important to the hotel, it also has a strong local business that supported both hotel and golf course during the recession and which would continue to be important going forward.

"In that context I must pay tribute to the staff both of the hotel and the golf course, who ensured that the property continued to retain its loyal support during those difficult times," said Barry.

"What we will be looking to do is to expand the business. We strongly believe we have one of the best locations in Ireland. It is less than 20 minutes from Dublin Airport and 20 miles from the heart of Dublin. Add in a championship links golf course, a five-mile Blue Flag beach, restaurants and other local attractions and it is hard to beat."

When you have such a wonderful product, only the best will do and with Director of Golf Moira Cassidy now in her 21st year, it's clear that this is a family affair.

As work continues on the multi- million renovation of the hotel, its bedrooms, bars and lobby areas, the course shines like a jewel in the bay.

"In the last 18 months were have refaced 65 bunkers and added some nice new ones," superintendent and Glasnevin native Fintan Brennan said at the start of the season.

While it can be a flattering course from the society tees on a calm day, it is a testing track from the whites in any kind of breeze, with the newly renovated course measuring 6,583 yards (6,020m) from the white tee and 7,047 yards (6,444m) from the blues.

Thankfully, the staff have undertaken a rigorous rough management programme which means that the wispy fescues dominate -which makes finding a ball simple, even if extricating it is not.

With a green fee of just €80 midweek and €100 at weekends in summer (€55 weekday and €70 weekend in winter) for non residents, it's hard to beat the venue for value and there has not been placing there for 12 years, making it ideal for winter golf.

Open championship hero Paul Dunne and three-time major winner Pádraig Harrington, along with other tour players resident in the Dublin area, are regular visitors, using the links to test their games as the wind blows in off the Irish Sea.

Harrington is, of course, a huge fan of Langer, whose tactical genius is there for all to see.

In the mid 1990s the German was appointed to design the new links in conjunction with landscape architect Eby, renowned for his work on PGA Golf de Catalunya, the Faldo Course at Sporting Club Berlin, The Montgomerie at Carton House Golf Club, Euphoria Golf Estate in South Africa or The Schloss Course at Fleesensee outside Berlin to name but a few.

With Eby's help, Langer incorporated some of the original 'Jameson' holes into his new masterpiece. The course opened to great acclaim in 1995 and become a welcome addition to the Irish links experience alongside its older 'cousins'.

It has moved with the times, too, undergoing major upgrading and renovation work in 2011 before the latest tranche of improvements.

Set on an intriguing mixture of flat and undulating links terrain, there is a testing start from the elevated first tee - high tees are a feature of the course - with a drive to a generous fairway presenting the successful with a challenging carry over a stream to a large but well bunkered green.

It would be unfair to pick out too many holes and rather let you discover the gems for yourself, but the seventh, with its carry over the drain, the short par-four eighth and the dogleg 15th are all designed to challenge your accuracy and intelligence, as well as your skill.

The par-three 17th is not for the faint-hearted as it sits nearly 200 yards away on an elevated site, protected by fall-offs at the front right and a huge bunker on the left.

The 18th might give up a birdie if you avoid hitting your tee shot on to the strand, but even a par should be rewarded with a drink in the hotel's famous Jameson Bar, which was once part of the Jameson family home.

Situated just 15 minutes drive from the airport and only a stone's throw from Dublin City, Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links has become a favourite for travelling golfers from all over the world, including 007 himself Sean Connery.

"I was delighted and surprised to find a new course built in the traditional links style. You would be hard pressed to find a more invigorating vision and challenge. It's that good," the Scottish actor said.

The welcome is always second to none and Moira Cassidy, is steeped in golfing tradition since childhood.

Eminently playable without diminishing the challenge for the low handicappers, the elevated tees at the par-three ninth, the 10th, 11th and 13th have also helped maximise the views, while a new 13th green has added 75 metres to this par-five, making it one of the most memorable on a course where fescue greens ensure perfect putting surfaces all year round.

The course is just part of the package, however, and the hotel is an oasis of tranquillity and luxury for travellers looking for a true Irish links experience near the buzzing metropolis of Dublin.

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