May 21, 2019 By: Richard Humphreys — Hanse Golf Course Design has completed the first phase of a redesign project at Narin & Portnoo Links in Donegal, Ireland.
The club did not give the golf architecture firm a set of objectives other than wanting to bring back some of the original ‘quirk’ that the course had. “What shaped our thoughts was the new owner’s enthusiasm for the original course along with the sheer beauty and interest of the property,” said Jim Wagner, vice president of Hanse Golf Course Design. “Some properties have great internal contours for golf, some have magnificent beaches set along gorgeous coastlines, others have incredible everchanging sky and distant views. Narin & Portnoo has all the above.”
The club briefly opened the redesigned course to members for preview play during the Easter period, where some of the changes that have been made include a new green at the first, to the left of the original to make it a bit more challenging. A lake has been taken out of play on the second, while the third and fourth have been combined to make a par five. The old eighth is now the new seventh with a blind shot to a new green tucked in behind dunes.
Many of the changes are designed to increase the speed of play, including the creation of two new par threes on the back nine.
Wagner says the project for Narin & Portnoo came about through the golf architecture firm’s work at Rockaway Hunt Club in Lawrence, New York. “We spent several years from 2008-2013 bringing back the seaside feel, classic architecture and ‘sense of place’ to Rockaway Hunt Club,” said Wagner. “What we didn’t realise as this was happening, was one of the members was taking notice along with his partner, a member of Winged Foot Golf Club [in Mamaroneck, New York], where we recently completed an extensive renovation. Both would soon be in the position to bring in an architecture group to help with similar objectives, at Narin & Portnoo.”
Hanse Golf Course Design was contacted in summer 2017 by the club’s owner Liam McDevitt when the golf architecture firm was working at Ohoopee Match Club in Cobbtown, Georgia. “We agreed to meet at RHC for some golf and project discussions,” said Wagner. “Having this meeting at RHC made the discussions and play comparisons rather easy as Narin & Portnoo was experiencing some of the same issues we had just changed at RHC.
“In meeting with Liam and Larry Foley, it was easy to see and feel their enthusiasm and love for the game of golf, the Narin and Portnoo course, as well as Ireland. Once you get to see that side of someone’s reasoning for being involved in a project, you know that the work has a great chance of success. From there it was easy and once Gil and I stepped onto the property our expectations were blown away.
“Liam grew up playing Narin & Portnoo and remembers it as an interesting par 69 course that required shot making creativity aided by wind and weather that the north-west coast of Ireland unveils every 10 or 15 minutes,” continues Wagner. “Over the years though, the course went through changes that took the course to par 73. When Gil and I toured the property with Liam, he walked us through the old golf course with excitement of a kid on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, there was also the heart sinking Christmas moments when you open Aunt Edna’s gift.”
Hanse and Wagner completed the first phase in March 2019 with the help of shaper Neil Cameron. “Work included moving green locations to bring back the original course’s feel and character while some green contours were adjusted for links golf,” said Wagner. “Tees were added, and alignment changed to increase strategy and interest, meanwhile bunkers and sand blowouts were highlighted to bring back the rugged seaside feel. We also combined and reoriented golf holes to take advantage of the natural features while adding shot variety to the golf course.
“The natural landscape has stunning 80-foot sand dunes; heavy and light ‘chop’ rolling links land; sharp drop-offs to pristine sandy beaches; rocky coast outcroppings to ricochet balls off; incredible views of the surrounding countryside; and outer islands along with an everchanging sky which you will get lost in! Numerous golf courses have one or two of these types of natural features but Narin & Portnoo has all of them. Couple that with fun, interesting golf with a bit of quirk you couldn’t ask for better creative inspiration.
“The golfers will be blown away by the natural beauty, interest and quirk that the property offers,” said Wagner. “The new combination of golf holes and greens locations will add challenge and stunning visuals associated with the property.”