Tainted Love* – a visit to a revitalised Narin & Portnoo.

by | Sep 6, 2021 | 3 comments

Kevin Markham

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The first time I played Narin & Portnoo was in 2007. I fell in love with the place, its remote location and the beautiful Irish setting of sea, mountains and sand. Holes 7 to 11 quickly became my favourite stretch of holes anywhere. It started and finished with par-3s and took you as close to the ocean as any Irish course… on three sides.

A few years ago the club was purchased by Liam McDevitt Larry Foley, and a new chapter began. They brought in Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, one of the world’s most respected design teams, and after a huge amount of work – and imagination – the new Narin & Portnoo reopened in mid 2020.

I was champing at the bit to see the changes in all their glory and I finally managed to play it this summer. It was an interesting journey for me. There were certain elements of the old course – at least the Eddie Connaughton creation – that worked well; there were others that didn’t. Three consecutive par fives (13 to 15) proved a challenge a touch too far for some golfers, especially so late in the round. Under Connaughton’s upgrades the links moved from a par 69 to a par 73. Gil Hanse has turned back time, making it par 70 with five par threes – three of them all shiny and new. The course length, however, is not that different.

Fifteen of the greens have been moved and their shapes are what sets them apart from the old course. Strong angles, steep run offs to rattle the nerves and big slopes to provide plenty of entertainment. If you look at these greens (and Doak’s greens at nearby St Patrick’s) you’ll see the strength and imagination of the modern designer. They’re things of beauty. I spent 10 minutes putting on the 8th (the old 9th) green… the one on the corner of the course where the land disappears into the sea of Gweebara Bay. I loved its shape and the rhythm… but I could easily have done the same on any green here.

I finished with mixed feelings so, for the sake of clarity, here are my Pros and Cons of the new design.

Pros

  • The greens are superb, as are their surrounds. You can be so creative if you miss putting surfaces (and avoid the rough) and you’ll see plenty of curves and challenges from one side of the green to the other.
  • The removal of the old par-3 3rd ensures the course’s weakest hole has gone.
  • Five par threes – three of them brand new – adds more excitement and fun to the course, and they point in very different directions, ensuring the wind plays a significant role.
  • The three consecutive par fives have gone and the total of five has been reduced to three… with the new 18th (a combination of the old 17 and 18) a powerful par-5 finish of 650 yards from the back tees.
  • Four of the new greens (7, 8, 10, 16) have been moved closer to the sea and their repositioning has added greatly both to the views… and the strategy to reach them.
  • The new bunkering has that ragged-edge appearance: it works with the raw beauty of the landscape and the course’s terrain.
  • The quality of the upgrades is, simply put, exceptional.
  • (The clubhouse food is superb.)

Cons

  • The five par threes – as a collective – are short. The longest is 147 yards with the others measuring 144, 140, 138 and 135. One meaty 170/180 yard hole would have added to the variety but that’s a personal criticism. Plenty of golfers will love five short par-3s, especially as they all face in different directions. They’re fun.
  • The new par-3 9th feels like a missed opportunity. From the tee (beside the sea) you don’t see enough of the green (also beside the sea) because of the terrain/rough in between. At 135 yards I want to see what I’m shooting at, especially as the green is narrow and angled at 45 degrees.
  • One of my favourite holes in Ireland has gone. The old 8th was a short downhill par-4 (311 yards) with a green perched above the sea and the flag almost lost in the waters behind it. No bunkers, just beauty. Today, the tee is in the same place but the green has been moved to the right, above rocks and water. It sits low in a bowl of dunes and can be reached from the tee (325 yards) in the right conditions. Don’t get me wrong, the new green setting is startling, intriguing and injects a bit of quirk (see photo)… it’s just that I pine for the old flag beating against the ocean.

It is easy to nit-pick over such things when your favourite run of holes is no more (the new par-3 9th has interrupted things) but the Hanse/Wagner team has redesigned Narin & Portnoo to pack a bigger and more modern punch than before… and it more closely reflects its pre-Connaughton origins. It tests you in new ways: the five par-3s demand more care in the wind; and the new greens require more intelligent, strategic approach play. Those green complexes are the cornerstone to a thoroughly entertaining day’s golf and they will greatly enhance Narin & Portnoo’s reputation at home and abroad.

www.narinandportnoolinks.com

* Tainted Love was a number one hit for Soft Cell in 1981. It was originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964.

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3 Comments

  1. Louis Røren

    My first and only visit was in 2011. Have always longed to go back. Loved most of it (except maybe its 3 opening holes). Do indeed wish to go back now with the redesign, .. and to take in Doak s new Course at Rosapenna. Donegal rules.

    Reply
  2. Michael Murray

    My friend Jim Meyer and I played Narin & Portnoo first in 2015, and when we returned 3 years later we played it again. Marvelous golf course, with stunning views and scenery. I very much appreciate the information in this article, as I now have a better understanding of how the changes have affected the course. I hope to return some day to see first-hand what has changed to this fantastic links layout.

    Reply
  3. Mr Tracy Johnson

    Great article! My wife and I were members for several years even though we lived in Dublin and could only play there a few times a year. Really loved the wild, raw excitement of the links golf there! I’m really looking forward to playing the redesigned layout.

    Reply

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Stay ahead of the game. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest Irish Golfer news straight to your inbox!

3 Comments

  1. Louis Røren

    My first and only visit was in 2011. Have always longed to go back. Loved most of it (except maybe its 3 opening holes). Do indeed wish to go back now with the redesign, .. and to take in Doak s new Course at Rosapenna. Donegal rules.

    Reply
  2. Michael Murray

    My friend Jim Meyer and I played Narin & Portnoo first in 2015, and when we returned 3 years later we played it again. Marvelous golf course, with stunning views and scenery. I very much appreciate the information in this article, as I now have a better understanding of how the changes have affected the course. I hope to return some day to see first-hand what has changed to this fantastic links layout.

    Reply
  3. Mr Tracy Johnson

    Great article! My wife and I were members for several years even though we lived in Dublin and could only play there a few times a year. Really loved the wild, raw excitement of the links golf there! I’m really looking forward to playing the redesigned layout.

    Reply

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