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Dublin Your Options
Clive Agran

The view from our executive suite in the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links was spectacular. My wife, as is often the case, spoke first.

“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 it is?”

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 sandy beach.”

“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 patron saint.

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.

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