Dunes and Dublin: The top five links golf courses near Ireland's capital

Most visiting golfers who land at Dublin Airport follow a similar game plan, like cattle following the herd.

They play Portmarnock Golf Club, a top-100 course just minutes from the tarmac, then scatter in all directions. Some head north to Royal Portrush and Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. Others head south to the European Club. The majority travel west to seek out their other top-100 targets, the Old Course at Ballybunion, and Lahinch.

Here's a novel idea: Why not stick around awhile? Dublin has blossomed into one of Europe's most fascinating cities. People worship at its churches and its pubs, sometimes in the same day. And savvy golfers know there's a string of quality links just north of the city. Portmarnock remains the headliner but according to Irishman Gary Murphy, a golf TV analyst who played on the European Tour and Challenge Tour from 2000-2012, "we are spoiled for choices."

"The product on the east coast is just as good, if not better (than the west), especially with access," Murphy said. "There are tons of good (links) courses within 14 miles of Dublin."

Consider playing the top five Dublin-area links for a week of fun in Ireland's capital city.

Royal Dublin Golf Club

Bull Island in Dublin Bay formed naturally over time. A sea wall constructed in the early 1800s collected shifting sands that eventually became dunes.

Royal Dublin Golf Club, accessible only by a narrow, one-lane wooden bridge out into the bay, was established within this unique ecosystem in 1885. The mostly flat terrain won't wow you, but the subtleties of the ground will certainly test you. Harry S. Colt restored the course after it fell into disrepair following World War I.

Martin Hawtree completed a redesign in 2006 to add more than 450 yards in length, raise all 18 greens and build a new stretch of holes no. 6-no. 8. Royal Dublin hasn't hosted an Irish Open since the 1980s, although it's certainly strong enough to do so.

Portmarnock Golf Club

The 27-hole Portmarnock Golf Club, which dates to 1894, has hosted 13 Irish Opens in the modern era of the European Tour, crowning champions from Ben Crenshaw in 1976 to Jose Maria Olazabal in 1990 and Michael Campbell in 2003.

Like Royal Dublin, the dunes of the 7,466-yard championship course at Portmarnock aren't all that inspiring. That's probably a good thing since the course demands every ounce of attention. Be sure to also play the extra nine-hole course at Portmarnock, which was added in the 1950s. It's got two surprises the championship routing does not, a scenic walk along the shore and an outstanding, drivable par 4.

Portmarnock Golf Links

A Bernhard Langer design built in 1995, Portmarnock Golf Links doesn't have the historical pedigree of its neighboring club. Instead, the 6,444-meter course (roughly 7,050 yards) excels in offering a welcoming atmosphere and more affordable green fee.

The land used to be part of the Jameson family's private golf course, developed in 1858 as one of the earliest golf courses in Ireland. The 99 bunkers might seem over the top but many are necessary to give the opening holes character until the dunes become a fixture from the eighth hole to the finish.

The Island Golf Club

Murphy calls The Island Golf Club a "pure" links. Dunes like volcanoes erupt on its best holes. The quirks in the layout -- which starts with eight consecutive par 4s -- can be forgiven for that very reason.

The par-3 13th hole overlooks the picturesque setting of the Malahide Estuary. The fairway of the par-4 14th is a mere 12 yards wide with out of bounds on the right. Golfers arrived by row boat at the old clubhouse that once stood along this narrow fairway back in the day. The Island G.C. is located just 15 minutes from Dublin Airport.

County Louth Golf Club

County Louth Golf Club, known by the locals as Baltray, was established in 1892 at the mouth of the River Boyne. It wasn't until 1938 that architect Tom Simpson perfected this beauty, still considered one of the top-10 links golf courses in Ireland.

In 1993, architect Donald Steel upgraded the design to 7,031 yards, sturdy enough to host the 2004 and 2009 Irish Opens. Murphy calls County Louth "the east coast Ballybunion." Its par-3 holes lack yardage yet still pack plenty of punch. "This is seen through Irish eyes as a historic place," Murphy said.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 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 Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Dunes and Dublin: The top five links golf courses near Ireland's capital