Monday, June 28, 1993. Bernhard Langer, winner of The Masters for the second time the previous April, arrives for a site visit to check progress on the construction of a course that will eventually become known as Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.
Thursday, November 10, 2022, the current owners, Northland Real Estate Properties, announce a major overhaul to the original Langer layout.
The company, which operates hotels in Canada, Britain and the USA, bought The Links hotel and golf course in 2019 for approximately €50 million.
Their ambitious plans for the resort were hit by the Covid pandemic but now the first phase of course upgrades, believed to be costing €2 million, will incorporate six new green complexes and three new tee complexes.
Course par will change from 71 to 72. Winter golf will be over 16 holes with three temporary greens and two temporary tee-boxes. The new holes should be in play by next May.
And so, almost 30 years since the German golfing superstar strolled the sandy
wastes of early course construction on that June day, Langer’s imprint on a highly rated links course will be considerably diluted.
That said, the owners, who commissioned Jeff Lynch of REGOLF Design, DAR Golf Construction and Aquaturf Solutions for the upgrade work, look to the future with one aim: to improve and enhance the golfing experience on an already internationally renowned seaside course.
Irish Golfer Magazine’s Top 100 golf course ratings for 2022 placed The Links at number 21 in Ireland.
Over the coming years we can expect that the resort’s prized golf offering will challenge for higher places in course ranking lists at home and abroad.
A lot of work done to date.. a lot more to do @DARGolf_ top professionals! Exciting times in @portmarnockhgl ⛳️ @jlynchy @PaulMcCanny @fintob pic.twitter.com/VOp3g09LW6
— Mike Brennan (@mike_bbrennan) January 27, 2023
The announcement in November of the coming changes marks a significant moment in the evolving history of the Hotel and Golf Links project.
On reading the press release, my thoughts went back to that June day in 1993 when this writer joined a small group of media folk and owners’ representatives to meet Langer on his site visit.
The Masters champion was in Ireland for the Irish Open to be played at Mount Juliet later that week and availed of the opportunity for a check on progress of his first, and to date, only links design.
Langer and on-site architect Stan Eby, then working for IMG (International Management Group), walked the site, design charts in hand.
The golfer, who had been resting a neck injury for the previous ten days, struck an iron shot for the benefit of photographers on what would become the 11th hole on the Links.
There followed a short interview with most of the questions directed at his prospects for the Irish Open.
On the subject of The Links course, Langer was bullish.
“I have played on many links courses and I would like to think I have learned something from all of them.
“I want to use the land available to the very best advantage and create the best holes we can and make it a typical links course everyone can enjoy,” he said.
By any standard, it’s fair to say that Langer achieved his ambition.
The Links opened for play in 1995 but the site has many historic connections.
Originally the Jameson family of Irish Whiskey fame owned the land.
Their house, which later became the Country Club and which is now incorporated into the Hotel and Golf Links, was once called St Marnock’s House.
King Edward VII was a friend of the Jameson family, and on his last official visit in 1907, he unveiled a plaque to commemorate the marriage of Willie Jameson and Henrietta Haig, members of two famous distilling families.
Golf has a long tradition on the Jameson lands.
The family established a 12-hole course in 1858 which incorporated sections of what was to become Portmarnock (Old) and the Hotel and Golf Links.
In more recent times, the first owners and original developers of the Links project were IMG Developments (Portmarnock) Ltd.
This was a joint venture between International Management Group and Columbia Investments, the private investment company of Dr Tony O’Reilly.
Next owners were Capel Developments, who bought it in 2005 for €70 million.
Two years later the company agreed a swap deal with Clontarf Golf Club which would have been worth about €130 million to the club. This included a €1 million non-refundable payment to Clontarf GC on signing the agreement; €20 million for the club; and €75 million for members.
Full (voting) members would receive €100,000 each; Lady members €22,000; 5-day members ; €17,500; Intermediate members €16,500; Bowling and country members €5,000; Pavilion members €1,000.
Capel would also have built a 28,000 square feet fully fitted clubhouse and top-class practice facilities at the end of the Links property bordering the road to Portmarnock (Old). Clontarf members gave their approval at a meeting in Croke Park on November 30, 2007.
Less than a year later, the banking crisis of 2008 caused ructions in financial markets, leading eventually to a collapse in house building and the deal was never completed.
Capel Developments went into NAMA in 2011.
Three years later Kennedy Wilson bought The Links Hotel and Golf Course out of receivership for €27 million. They invested around €11 million in the resort including course upgrades before selling to Northland three years ago.
The company was in line for a bumper 2020, as were so many other businesses in this country. Unfortunately, Sod’s Law ruled.
Covid struck. The world changed, and chaos ruled.
A gradual return to something approaching normality took place towards the end of 2021 and throughout this year. Now it’s all systems go for The Links as the owners prepare to upscale the product in the Hotel and also on the golf course.
Good news, indeed, but there was a sting in the tail for members due to significant annual subscription increases.
The rates for 2023 for new members (including Golf Ireland levy and Golfsure Insurance) are: New 7-Day member: €3500; New 5-Day member €2250.
The Links, however, is here to stay.
Throughout the good, bad, and indifferent periods in Ireland’s economic status, golf has continued to be played over a terrific and testing golf course.
By 2025 when the 30th anniversary of the opening of the course comes round, there should be much to celebrate.
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