The sleepy village of Portsalon in Donegal on the Fanad peninsula is home to what the Irish effectively call a “hidden gem,” a course that often gets overlooked in favor of its better-known neighbors of Ballyliffin and Rosapenna. This, however, is an exceptional links, not to be underestimated nor missed. Located around the beautiful Ballymastocker Bay, this founding member of the Golfing Union of Ireland in 1891 is a real test of links golf. , but it received a significant upgrade in 2000, including nine entirely new holes, all designed by Irish architect and owner of The European Club, Pat Ruddy. The 3rd and 9th and the 4th and 8th got fresh double greens at the time of the work, allowing Ruddy to maximize the length of the course to 6,850yards.
After a relatively straightforward opening par four, Portsalon explodes into life. The second hole is spectacular and considered widely to be one of the best Par 4’s in Ireland. With the ocean infringing on your line down the left side of the fairway and with a tributary continuing to follow you down the hole only to sweep across your path 50-yards short of the green, this is as tough a hole as you’ll find. The Par four, 6th hole is both very challenging and stunningly beautiful in equal measure; with the Atlantic Ocean running down the entire left side, with menacing dunes framing either side of a narrow fairway. It is an entirely bunker-less hole, showing you its overall strength.
Some of the back nine holes move inland away from the dunes and the beach, and as such, they take on more of a parkland feel. Despite this, they are no less enjoyable, and from the 14th hole home, these are all original holes, with only minor modifications made by Ruddy. The par three’s in particular at Portsalon are very testing, each one faces in a different direction from the next, inevitably exposing your game to a variety of wind directions in some cases in a matter of a few holes. Portsalon is a thoroughly enjoyable links, well worth the effort to go there and play when you are in that part of Ireland and also forms a great combination with Rosapenna or Ballyliffin.
This is a course not to be missed when traveling through Donegal on your golf vacation in Ireland.