Traveling the world researching golf resorts is not all fun and there are times when you simply have to knuckle down and do the work. And so it was on my first morning at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links that I was obliged to forsake the almost irresistible appeal of a shopping trip into nearby Dublin in order to play the course. The fact that it was a sparkling day with a gentle breeze wafting down from the mountains was precious little consolation. So, as my wife and daughter clambered aboard the 32 bus that stops right outside the hotel for the 45-minute trip into the city centre, I walked the 100 yards to the first tee.
As if to prove that the world is not divided into men who golf and women who shop, Moira Cassidy, the Director of Golf, joined me for the round. Formerly a one-handicapper, Moira thumps the ball with a feminine ferocity that crushes any attempt at male condescension. Having borrowed a set of clubs from the pro shop and still reeling from the trauma of watching a video of my swing the previous week, I sensibly declined her invitation to play off the championship tees. Even so, after losing the first four holes it occurred to me that perhaps I should have gone shopping!
Had I done so I would have missed playing one of the loveliest links courses. It’s difficult to believe that it opened only 12 years ago as it looks and feels as if it’s been around for centuries. Designed by Bernhard Langer, it has everything you hope for in a links course – springy turf, punishing bunkers, inviting fairways, elevated tees and superb greens. It also has a few drains, yes, drains. To be honest, I was slightly taken aback when Moira warned me of their presence. Would it not be somewhat more romantic to refer to these modest little water features as streams or burns? She dismissed my suggestion as pure sentimentality and my admiration for the Irish and their refreshing candor was further strengthened when she explained that in Ireland they are not afraid to call a drain a drain.
In fact, there’s a lot to admire about the Irish not least their ability to enjoy themselves. Both on and off the golf course, they seem determined to have a good time. Golf, with its immense capacity to amuse and entertain, is ideally suited to their laid-back attitude and should, in my opinion, be officially recognized as their national sport and assigned a suitable patron saint.
The course, too, was heavenly. Walking down the gentle fairways between the towering dunes was delightful as each superb hole was followed by an even better one. And the round reached a spectacular crescendo down the final stretch as the last three holes are undoubtedly the finest. Even an ugly double bogey at the 18th didn’t dent my enthusiasm for what was a wonderful morning on a magical course. My only regret was that I couldn’t stay for a pint or two in the oak-paneled, clubhouse bar but instead had to dash to Dublin to rescue my credit card.
Whatever residual guilt I might have felt at having deserted my family for a game of golf was soon dispelled by their smiling faces as we met at the agreed rendezvous on O’Connel Bridge. Clearly they had had at least as much fun as I had.
Although I am no great fan of big cities, walking around Dublin was fascinating. Had we had more time, there were all sorts of interesting places to see, not least the Guinness brewery. But after a stroll along the River Liffey and around the grounds of Trinity College, we jumped on a train back to Portmarnock.
That night we dined in the hotel’s award-winning Osborne restaurant, named after Walter Osborne. No, he never won the Open or even the Irish Open for that matter. In fact, I don’t think the poor fellow played golf. He was a famous Irish artist who, amongst dozens of other works, had painted the view across the Dublin Bay that could be enjoyed from the hotel. I’m not qualified to comment on his pictures but I doubt there as good as the meal we had in his restaurant.
The next morning, anxious about having eaten too much, we seriously considered a stint in the hotel’s gymnasium and sauna but instead opted for an energetic two-mile walk along the shore to the quaint coastal town of Mulahide. As well as the usual shops, numerous churches and a couple of dozen bars that you find in every Irish town, Mulahide boasts a marina and a fascinating castle. But if neither boats nor history appeal, there’s always the option of another round of golf.