The first stop on my East Ireland tour was The Island Golf Club just north of the Fair City. If you fly in, this veritable links is only 20 minutes from Dublin International Airport. Founded in 1890, it’s one of Ireland’s oldest yet, as recently as the 1970s, The Island was reachable mainly by rowing boat. From the village of Malahide which you can see over the water, two four balls and their accouterment would be unceremoniously squeezed into a small rowing skiff manned no-doubt by a swarthy Irish fellah who would skull them across the estuary in a matter of minutes. Nowadays you drive in less dramatically by a winding, coastal path. I do somehow wish the old row-boat ferry was still an option.
Out on the golf course, my swing was lost at sea for the first couple of holes but I soon got the feel for the place. The course weaves through high dunes with firm, fast-rolling fairways, genuine links golf as good as any you’ll find on the Emerald Isle. It's fairly tight off the tee with large sand sentries to be negotiated but this is a course you could get to know and love in a trice. I played the front 9 with club manager, John Lawler, a young man for such a lofty post I thought. “There’s a new breed of golf club managers out there now,” John informed me. “We’re perhaps younger and more experienced in marketing and modern approaches to club management.” John had spent time at resorts like Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits and seemed to have a worldly view of where The Island Golf Club should be going. And judging by the improvements I could see around the clubhouse along with the friendly welcome I received, The Island will no doubt flourish and find many willing new customers.
There are no fewer than eight consecutive Par 4’s which look a bit pedestrian on the card but believe me, no two are the same and each presents an entirely different set of circumstances. The first four, for instance, cover the four points of the compass catching the wind in its varying directions so you soon pay heed otherwise pay penalties. And being by the sea, wind is always a factor! At the 4th tee I took a break to admire the open view of the Irish Sea with Portmarnock Golf Club, so John told me, just round the bay. Lambay and Ireland’s Eye are the two islands you see just across the water.
This is great golfing terrain reminding me just how much I love links golf. It’s maybe not as glamorous as courses along the way such as Royal Dublin or County Down but it’s a fraction of the cost and well worth the outing. I was really enjoying the natural flow of the holes and the firm links turf. The golf course protects itself with ease, the rolling lay of the land, the shapely greens and speedy run-ons not to mention the wind make it a fairly patent challenge. The front 9 tracks through sandhill valleys and has little changed since the course’s earliest years apart from the green complexes which have been fully updated. The dunes of the second half are even larger much like Ireland’s west coast links such as Lahinch and Ballybunion. John left me to get on with the back 9 and it was every bit as exciting and agreeable.
The Island is a host venue for Regional Qualifying for the Open Championship so you get an indication of how worthy a course it is. Yet it somehow sneaks under the radar of Ireland's most popular places to play. I think it’s only a matter of getting the word out as it truly is a unique and gratifying experience.