Dublin Your Options
The view from our executive suite in the
Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links was
spectacular. My wife, as is often the case,
“Glorious, quite glorious,” she
observed as we gazed wistfully out of the
window. For once, it seemed, we were in total agreement.
“Absolutely glorious,” I replied.
A few, blissful, almost romantic moments passed
in silence before she asked, “How long do you think
Ever eager to impart information, I replied. “It’s
about 450 yards.”
“Are you sure? It looks a great deal more than that.”
“That’s off the back tees, of course.”
“Back tees? I’m talking about that magnificent
“And I’m talking about the 18th, surely one of the
best finishing holes in the British Isles.”
And so our
shared moment evaporated like Irish mist on a hot
summer’s morn. To be fair, having had it pointed out
to me, I grudgingly had to concede that the beach was
spectacular. Indeed, so spectacular that, after unpacking
my suitcase, I felt compelled to accompany my
wife and 12-year-old daughter on a walk along it. So little more than two hours after leaving London, we
were genuinely on holiday.
The combination of the murmuring surf and bracing
sea air soon worked its magic and the three
Agrans were once again in total harmony as we
strode across the golden sand. Helped by the towering
dunes that hid the course from view, I was able
to banish all unwelcome thoughts of golf and, for
once, focus my complete attention on my family.
Indeed, the two-night/three-day break was a bold
social experiment. Could the frequently conflicting
recreational aspirations of the diverse members of
one small family be accommodated within the confines
of one short break?
Things got off to a good start. The brief flight from
Gatwick arrived in Dublin on time and was followed
by a smooth 15-minute taxi ride to the hotel that did
not, much to the relief of some, allow me sufficient
time to tell the driver any of my several and excellent
Irish jokes. As well as the stunning view, our spacious
room had Sky TV, which delighted my daughter
almost as much as the huge bath. The dead starfish,
crabs and other deceased marine flotsam we found on
the beach were an unexpected bonus that ensured she
had plenty to discuss over dinner. Our appetites were
so sharpened by the walk that not even a plethora of
post mortems could put us off our food.
Frankly, I was a bit anxious about dining in the
hotel’s Links Restaurant lest it be too overtly golfy and
therefore inherently offensive to my non-golfing companions. Fortunately, apart from the pictures on the
walls, there were few clues to suggest that we were in
a golfing environment. The restaurant manager plays
off seven and our waiter served the vegetables with
what looked to me like a classic overlapping grip but,
thank God, there was no Seve Soup, Padraig Potatoes,
Tiger Trifle or Faldo Flan. In fact, both the ambience
and the food were hard to fault.
Now, travelling 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 our first morning that I was obliged to forsake the
almost irresistible appeal of a shopping trip to
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 at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf
Links, joined me for the round. Formerly a 1-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 in the world. It’s difficult
to believe that it opened as recently as 1995 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 candour was
further strengthened when she explained that in
Ireland they are not afraid to call a drain a drain.
There is a lot to admire about the Irish, not least
their ability to enjoy themselves. Whether on or 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 recognised
as their national sport and assigned a suitable
The course, too, is heavenly. Walking down the gentle
fairways between the towering dunes was delightful,
as each superb hole was followed by an even better
one. The round reached a spectacular crescendo down the final stretch as the last three holes are
undoubtedly the finest. As Moira and I stood on the
last tee and gazed down the fairway towards the distant
green and the impressive hotel behind, my mind
went back to the previous evening when I had stared
at the reverse view.
Frankly, no matter which way
round you look at it, the 18th is a stunner and is well
worth the air-fare on its own. Even an ugly doublebogey
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 cosy,
oak-panelled, 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 me.
Although I am no great fan of big cities, strolling
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, among
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 they are as good as the magnificent 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. If you fancy a fresh challenge, there is
the famous, original Portmarnock course, which
adjoins Portmarnock Links.
After Malahide, we went back to the hotel and while
my wife took one last, lingering look at that spectacular
view, I bid a sad farewell to the drains.