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Narin & Portnoo: Far from the beaten track

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A little too far off the beaten track… that’s a criticism often aimed at Narin & Portnoo, in the wilds of Donegal.

It’s a links that came from humble origins (it was affectionately known as ‘Portmoo’ for the cattle that shared the fairways with golfers for many years) and then blossomed as it expanded from a par 69 to a par 73.

And yet most of us know very little about it and fewer have ever been.

That might be about to change. Under new, private ownership the golf course is getting a makeover by the brilliant Gil Hanse. Castle Stuart, Winged Foot, Merion… all courses where Gil has applied his expertise. And then there’s the Olympics course, in Rio de Janeiro, where Justin Rose and Inbee Park won Gold in 2016.

With his partner, Jim Wagner, Gil is taking Narin & Portnoo on a new journey… one that will undoubtedly put it on the map for North American golfers.

Of the 19 greens (including the practice green) only one will be untouched (the current 5th), and 15 will be moved. There will be three new par threes and the rather laborious string of three par fives (holes 13 to 15) will be replaced by three par fours. For me, one of the most exciting changes will be turning holes 17 and 18 into a closing par five, bringing in some wonderful and natural dunes… but the changes, as seen last week, are all excellent. Four of the new greens (7, 8, 10, 16) have been moved closer to the sea that surrounds the links and their repositioning has added greatly both to the views and the strategy to reach them.

Narin & Portnoo is finding a new and more natural feel thanks to Hanse’s and Wagner’s work and, most interestingly of all, in an age where clubs around the world are increasing their size, the links here is falling from a par 73 to 70.

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