The 17th, a broad and beautiful par-5, at Donegal Golf Club.


The assumption is that all the links courses here in northwest Ireland are “ancient”, but that’s not the case. Donegal Golf Club, also known as Murvagh, was built in the 1970s, though you’d never guess it.

We’ve played two even newer links on this trip, the Sandy Hill track at Rosapenna, and the Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin GC. Both courses are superb but severe, built amid the big dunes slightly inland from the older courses at both venues, on land Old Tom Morris (who did the original course at Rosapenna) would never have dreamed of using. I’ve written elsewhere that many of these new links suffer from agronomic issues: The rough is too thick, has not been burned off appropriately over the course of decades, and doesn’t generally have that wispy-penal-but-you’ll-find-it quality. But there’s more to it. Back in the day, Old Tom and his like didn’t have the technology to carve holes from terrain like this — so they wisely fashioned subtle holes amid the gentler topography closer to the ocean.

These new links are more dramatic but, as you might imagine, much tougher, too; the locals, who have the option to play either course at both Ballyliffin and Rosapenna, invariably choose the older courses, the staffs inform us. Sensible.

In any case, despite its relative youth, Murvagh has that ‘old course’ feel. The front nine circles around the perimeter of the property — an estuary dotted with dunes — while the back nine forms a separate central loop. Returning nines is perhaps a sign of its recent design, but what a golf course. Old Tom would have approved.