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Dunes are aplenty at the Island Golf Club.
Dunes are aplenty at the Island Golf Club. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)

The Island Golf Club near Dublin, Ireland: Under-appreciated gem is pure links fun

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer

COUNTY DUBLIN, Ireland –- There is one major hole in the resume of The Island Golf Club.

All of the finest links golf courses around Dublin -- Portmarnock Golf Club, Royal Dublin Golf Course and County Louth Golf Club -- have hosted the European Tour's Irish Open at least twice. It's probably the only reason why The Island constantly flies under the radar when it should be considered the links course to play around Dublin. The Island's dunes make its competitors look like mole hills.

"We've always had the title of a hidden gem, but we want to get away from that," said David Costigan, The Island's head professional. "The lack of a major event, that hurts us a bit. ... We've held the Irish PGA, but to get to a worldwide audience, we need an Irish Open or something."

The 6,313-meter, par-71 course (roughly 6,900 yards) will host a British Open qualifier from 2013-2017, a first step in proving it can test the world's best players. Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke holds the course record with a 63 at the 1999 Smurfit Irish PGA Championship. He calls The Island "a fantastic links which tests every club in the bag."

It's a handful for everyday players. "I love links. It is probably one of the toughest around," said Irishman David Fitzgerald. "Even when you play well, it is tough to score. I love the challenge."

The words "pure links" are tailor-made for The Island, established in 1890. The Irish Sea and the Malahide Estuary surround the exposed site on three sides.

Until 1973, the only way to access the club was by rowboat from Malahide Village. Costigan said he'd love to bring back the rowboat for marketing purposes, but there are logistical issues. For one, the clubhouse is no longer on the 14th hole, having moved to its current inland site in the 1970s.

Architects Fred Hawtree and Irish legend Eddie Hackett helped rid the course of many of its awkward blind shots to prepare for the club's century celebration in 1990. More recently, Martin Hawtree had a hand in tinkering with the course layout, a job that is still in progress.

"The thing that jumps out (about the design) is the size of the dunes," Costigan said. "It is so close to the city. It is what people think is only on the west coast of Ireland."

The Island starts out a bit disjointed with eight-straight par 4s, finishing the front nine with a par 3. That lack of variety is offset by the sheer excellence of the holes and the terrain. Plateau greens on the second and third repel weak shots.

The dunes, views and challenge only intensify on the back nine. The 190-meter, par-3 13th tiptoes to the edge of the Malahide Estuary and Malahide Marina with the village as a backdrop. The round reaches its zenith at the par-5 15th, where a green rests in an amphitheater of towering dunes.

"The back nine is the strength," Costigan said. "The front nine is a little short. Hopefully that will change."

Several pieces of an aggressive expansion puzzle are already in place. A new par 3 in the dunes to the right of the fourth tee is waiting to be used. A new tee can extend the par-4 third into a par 5, but Costigan said the club would like to move the green as well.

The hardest part will be the final phase: moving the car parking lot and access road to combine the par-4 eight and par-3 ninth into another par 5. None of the changes are imminent and won't be in play during the Open qualifier, Costigan admits. The redesign could eventually lead to the respect The Island craves.

The Island Golf Club: The verdict

Even with the course's minor quirks, you'd row a boat across the estuary yourself to play The Island G.C. again. It's a treat.

I've had more than one person tell me they'd rather play The Island than the more-celebrated Portmarnock Golf Club. The dunes make the day.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
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