The most common name in the Donegal phone book is Gallagher, so it was fitting that I found time to visit, staying at the beautiful Lough Eske Castle. It was equally important to hit the links while in Donegal to provide you with another golf report from around the world.
Donegal Golf Club was established in 1959 with the first golf course and clubhouse at Tullycullion just outside of Donegal Town. Some years later, the membership realized a fine parcel of land on the Murvagh Peninsula was more suitable for the links-style course they required. They hired Eddie Hackett, one of the top Irish designers of the day, to design an 18-hole championship course in 1970. The course and new clubhouse officially opened in 1976.
Pat Ruddy, the most respected links designer in Ireland today, recently refined the design and improved some of the holes and greens.
The Murvagh Peninsula offers windswept topography bordered by pine forest, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Donegal Bay on the other. “Windswept” is not an understatement. The day I played here, sustained winds of more than 40 mph howled across the land, so I was nearly the only person on the course. As I gathered my clubs in the parking lot, a few members were giving up play for the day. My hat blew off, and I chased it about 100 yards, to the merriment of the packing members. “You need a woolly hat on a day like today,” one said — and then the cover for his driver took off on the same windy dance. I chased that, too, to their cheers.
I teed off to an open course that had been cleared by nature, alone except for a threesome who let me play through on the second hole — just like when the president plays.
Hole 1 | 530 yards, par 5
“The Road to the Isles”
The club website says birdies are possible for the long hitter, but this was not in the cards on the day I teed up. The course is spectacular, with a view of the Bluestack Mountains and just a stone’s throw from the beautiful Donegal Bay. Hole 1 provides a warm-up, as you are just entering the teeth of Murvagh. I shot a decent drive right center, but the wind punched down my approach into the forward bunker, ending my dreams of a first-hole par.
Hole 2 | 463 yards, par 4
As I approached the tee box, I was waved through by a threesome searching for a ball in the high fescue on the left and only about 90 yards away. This was my big break to pass and play the course in record time, making it back for lunch in Donegal Town with my wife. I teed up and sent a ball dead left and low, right toward the threesome, as I screamed, “Fore!” There was no way they could hear me over the howling winds. Fortunately, the ball did not strike them, nor did they see how close they came to near-death. I teed up a provisional ball and sent it out toward the bunker on the right, running to my cart to make my getaway. Even on a normal windy day, players consider this hole one of the most difficult on the course; on this day, I had to play it as a par 5 and hope for the best.
Hole 5 | 196 yards, par 3
“Valley of Tears”
The name is no lie: This hole can bring the strongest player to tears. A nearly blind long shot leads to a plethora of bunkers on the way to the elevated green. Some believe this hole marks the beginning of the greatest front nine collection in all of Ireland.
Hole 8 | 549 yards, par 5
If you had any question that Donegal has length, this hole will firmly remind you; it is one of the longest holes on the Emerald Isle. Eight is an absolutely beautiful hole, with Donegal Bay to your right; you must pause a few minutes for a selfie. But once you finish your foolishness, prepare for battle with this monster’s narrow fairway and little trouble areas. Some small bunkers and moguls lie to the left of this landing strip of a fairway. As I lined up my drive, the wind picked up sand from the beach far below the high dunes where the tee box lies, stinging my face as it hit. The next shot is blind and almost fooled me into going for the 10th green, which happens to many visitors. This hole’s green lies down lower than the fairway and slopes front to back.
Hole 12 | 593 yards, par 5
I have a different name for this hole: I call it “The Destroyer,” as this is what it did to me. Forget that the hole is nearly 600 yards from the tips. Worse, a drainage ditch runs diagonally across the hole, and you can’t see it from the tee box or fairway until you are virtually on top of it. Also, bunkers dot both sides of the landing area from the tee box. You need to lay up on the right side, avoiding the ditch, and then smack away to the green in three. Wind or no wind, this is a long and difficult hole; I understand it represents one of Ruddy’s signature changes at Murvagh.
Hole 14 | 566 yards, par 5
Here’s another long hole where you need to send out a near-perfect drive to be in position to lay up — as on 12, that pesky drainage system snakes from the left side of the fairway, then crosses the green and continues up the right side of the fairway. This is where a little course knowledge comes in handy! The green is best attacked from the left side of the fairway.
Murvagh is a must-play course, and I liked the conditions under which I played — a testament to my fortitude, and it makes for a great golf story.
Donegal Golf Club
tel 353 74 97 34054
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