Director of Golf, Paul McCanny arrived at Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links in 2021 and the timing couldn’t have been better.
Empowered by new owners Northland Real Estate Properties who purchased the resort in 2019, the club finds itself amid a multi-million-euro renovation project, highlighted by six new green complexes and three new tee boxes set to be unleashed this summer.
ReGolf Design, DAR Golf Construction and Aquaturf Solutions have been hard at work, and alongside Links Superintendent Fintan Brennan, McCanny has relished the challenge of the ambitious overhaul.
“There has always been a culture of wanting to improve the golf course and the new owners were the very same,” says McCanny.
“Over the years of good and bad financial years there has always been an effort made to push the course on.
“When the Gaglardi family took over, they fell in love with the place. They were really excited to get in and invest in the golf course and the work is really starting to take shape.”
McCanny, who attended school in St Colm’s in Derry where legendary figures Seamus Heaney and John Hume passed through, has had a storied career in the golf industry. A qualified PGA Professional, he got his first crack at the whip as an assistant pro at BlackBush Golf Club where he served for three years from 2005.
Then he got a phone call from Michael Horan to become the golf professional in a driving range in Birr where he did some custom fitting, teaching, and even had Shane Lowry using the TrackMan facility!
McCanny’s big break came in 2011, bringing him back to the Royal County where he was appointed as Head Golf Professional of Killeen Castle Golf Club just a few months before the Solheim Cup was staged.
He spent a decade at the Meath club where he also oversaw three Ladies Irish Opens before getting the job as Director of Golf at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, and he is relishing the prospect of introducing the new and improved layout to the Irish golf space.
“We met with Jeff Lynch from ReGolf design who is very experienced and has his own company, and just finished Druids Glen,” McCanny says.
“He gave us his thoughts and myself, Fintan and the owners and GM listened and decided what we really wanted to do was improve the golf course from a conditioning point of view in terms of irrigation.
“The irrigation system would have been here from the start so it’s old technology so that will definitely help in terms of managing the water input and that has some agronomic benefits. We don’t use much pesticides, insecticides at all so that’s important.
“We also want to improve the challenge of the golf course. There were one or two areas of the golf course we felt were a little bit weak and we are targeting them.”
One of the main objectives of the design changes is to improve the finishing stretch, highlighted by switching the long par-3 17th to a driveable par-4, while also enhancing the stunning east coast views by changing the routing of some holes.
“We have a unique feature on the east coast where we have a really nice dunescape,” McCanny says. “A lot of courses on the east coast don’t have great views of the sea or have the slopes or undulations or the dunes like we have.
“So we really want to try and take advantage of that and enhance it by looking at the routing, creating a better variation of shot and challenging the golfer all the time. It’s very rare you get a flat calm day here but if you do we want to make sure the golfer is still challenged.
“We are going to have four very strong par-3s when this is finished and some interesting par-5s. The 17th hole which people would know as being a very tough par-3 is a hole that is like marmite really.
“One of the key things we are trying to do is send people away at the end of the round having enjoyed their day. As a resort course we have a nice feature where the first tee and 18th green are really close to the hotel.
“The owners want to maximise that because we looked at changing the routing but decided not to do that.”
McCanny feels the renovations will find the perfect balance for the golfer who wants to be tested but still leave the 18th green with a satisfactory smile.
“You will have a strong par-4, a strong par-3, another strong par-4 and then a shorter par-4 17th which you will be able to take on a little bit. Then 18 is of course another strong par-4,” he says.
“They are still going to be challenging but we will make them fairer and hopefully send people home with a nice memory of the course.
“The world has changed in terms of golf. Years ago everyone wanted to play the toughest golf course and there was a perverted enjoyment of getting beaten up for five and a half hours.
“Now nobody wants to be out there for five and a half hours, or get beaten up by the course for 18 holes!”
Opened in 1995, Portmarnock Links has proven an excellent host to some high-class professional events, including two Ladies Irish Opens in 2008 and 2009, and the 2021 Irish Challenge. It’s a tradition McCanny hopes to continue as he looks to attract high-class competition to the revamped links.
“We hosted the Challenge Tour in May 2021,” he says. “The golf course held up in terms of scoring; I think nine-under was the winning score. Fintan and the team can pull in the fairways and dry out the greens if we want to make it tougher for tournaments.
“We would love to host tournaments again in the future, whether that be professional or amateur. It’s not a necessity but the course is suited to tournament play no matter what level and it’s something we can excel at.”
McCanny and co have strengthened the greens staff to aid their ambitions, making it the largest team they have ever assembled where conservation is at the core of everything they do.
In fact, the team at Portmarnock Links noticed that members enjoyed playing four or five holes in the evening and interacting with nature, and they hope that will continue to be the case when the new design opens.
“Last summer we had such a dry spell so we need to ensure we target water in the right areas rather than spread it all over,” McCanny stresses.
“This first phase as we are calling it, there isn’t too much conservation involved because all the areas we are working on are on the golf course and making sure with the help of Fingal we have protected what we needed to.
“Into the future they are very interested in the local area, particularly for bird life. They want to ensure the preservation of bird life by creating more wet areas so they are on the south side of the property.
“We have some wet land areas there and we want to enhance that. We only use 30% of the area for the golf course so there is a huge portion of the land used for birds, wildlife and flora and fauna so we want to try and protect that.
“People want to go and play golf because there are nice things to look at and at the links, we believe we have some of the best views in the country that this renovation work should only help bring out.”
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