Golf Ages Like Whiskey at Portmarnock Resort

And the newly rebranded and renovated Jameson Golf Links just 15 minutes from Dublin Airport.

Golf
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There’s a word in Danish called hygge, perhaps you’ve heard it. But if not, it loosely translates to a feeling of coziness brought on during the winter months by lighting candles, wearing fleece and drinking whiskey. Now hygge might be a Danish word, but it’s a concept that anyone who’s lived somewhere cold for a significant period of time can relate to. As it just so happened, we were in Ireland a few weeks ago, where the clocks had just been set back an hour and seasonal depression threatened to rear its ugly head. Luckily though, the Hibernians are not just experts in craic (the Gaelic word for a good time), but they’re also quite well versed in hygge, even if they don’t realize it. Barrel aged whiskey, dinner by the fire, warm hospitality and seaside golf was more than enough to keep us in good spirits at a golf resort just north of Dublin.

Golf has been played at Portmarnock for some 170 years. Jameson Golf Links (formerly Portmarnock Links) is one of two courses on the narrow peninsula. The course originally opened in 1995, the brainchild of the legendary sports marketing powerhouse Mark McCormack who turned Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer into larger-than-life icons. The concept was simple, to build a world class golf course on the same peninsula as the historic Portmarnock Golf Club, but to cater it to visitors by building a 131 room hotel. Despite its best efforts though, the course and resort has always existed in the shadow of the neighboring club, and having such a similar name certainly never helped. However, with a new ownership group now in place since 2020 led by the Gaglardi brothers, who own other hotels and the NHL’s Dallas Stars, the property has undergone a rebranding.

The new name for the course? Jameson Golf Links. It’s a tribute to the history of the property, which was chosen by the Jameson Whiskey family as the site for their countryside retreat. John Jameson III, the grandson of the original founder, established residence here with his wife, and portraits of the family hang in the recently renovated Jameson Bar. Whispers from the past are everywhere. The old estate still stands, now serving as the hotel’s bar, restaurant and administrative quarters. Surrounding the building is a beautifully preserved garden, and a hand carved stone family crest gifted by the Queen. The crest, which reads Lux, Amor, Pax – or Light, Love, Peace – is used out on the course as tee markers. There’s even a graveyard just off the first hole where John Jameson III was buried which, truth be told, had us more than a bit worried that we might send a ball ricochetting off a tombstone. That has to be bad karma.

The Location

It’s impossible to sing the praises of Portmarnock Resort without mentioning that it is just a mere 15 minutes drive from Dublin Airport. The only thing upsetting the tranquil beachside setting is the steady march of airplanes passing from high above, but that feels like a small price to pay, all things considered. In a day and age when spare time feels increasingly scarce, being able to end up at your final destination within less than an hour of touching down feels like a cheat code.

The resort looks out to the Irish Sea on a stretch of beach called the Velvet Strand. It’s a wide, flat beach with plenty of public access frequented by couples walking dogs, kids playing hurling (an Irish bat and ball sport), and families with small children. It’s easily accessible from the hotel via a path leading out from the parking lot. From the beach, you’ll be able to get a better sense of your surroundings. Facing the sea, to the right is the peninsula of Howth, which has a breathtaking cliff walk on the east side, an active commercial fishing port and a main street with many well reviewed seafood restaurants and pubs. That’s about a 15 minute drive.

Straight ahead more or less are two islands, one closer and the other further away. The closer one is called Ireland’s Eye. We were told that the island is inhabited by puffins, seals and coastal birds, but no humans. It has a now abandoned fortification called Martello tower, and the island is accessible via a small passenger vessel that departs from Howth. The other one, Lambay Island, is a bit more mysterious. It’s privately owned and home to a colony of wallabies, which was introduced by a member of the German and English aristocracy in the 1950s.

Finally, to the north is Malahide, an affluent town with a rich cultural heritage made up of artists, musicians and athletes. There are lots of little boutiques, pubs and restaurants, plus a 12th century castle nestled on an expansive green estate that will transport you into a period drama.

There’s also a ton of golf. It would take far too much time to list out all the nearby options, but you could do a lot worse for yourself if you played the neighboring Portmarnock Golf Club and the Island Golf Club, which can be found on the next peninsula up the coast on the other side of Malahide.

The Golf

In the British Isles, characteristics that define links golf include a seaside setting, sandy soil, open vistas, pot bunkers and generally flat terrain. You’ll know that you’re next to the water. The constant breeze, talkative seagulls and temperamental weather conditions won’t let you forget it. But the lack of elevation change normally precludes any views of said water. When the new owners set out to improve the golf course, hiring architect Jeff Lynch from (re)Golf, the focus was on creating elevation change to leverage the course’s spectacular surroundings.

Six new holes were created in total, beginning with the par-3 9th, which has a strong case for being the signature hole. Teeing off high up in the dunes, you play a shot of 164 yards to a large, undulating green guarded by two front bunkers, and backdropped by the Irish Sea and Ireland’s Eye.

Further along, the par-5 12th hole is another highlight where a new green was added. After a relatively straightforward tee shot, an all important layup sets you up to attack a green which has been built up to a high peak, once again providing panoramic views. Come up short at all and your ball will roll back down into a collection area. There’s one new green that has yet to open, the 17th, which is positioned on the edge of the boundary with the beach. Once it opens, golfers will tee off on the old 17th tee for what will become a short par-4.

As renovations continue bedding in, you’ll want to keep in mind where the new greens are, since those are currently playing a few feet faster than the old ones. As a whole though, we felt the course was geared towards more experienced players. The fairways are narrow, the bunkers are cavernous, and the fescue is long and more than capable of gobbling up balls. The course played plenty difficult even on November 10 which, as our playing partner pointed out, is the time of year when links courses are supposed to be the easiest. We’re not necessarily saying you’ll lose a ton of balls, but your ball may get scuffed up quite a bit.

The Accommodations

In an ideal world (at least in our view), a golf trip doesn’t entail a ton of time spent in a hotel room. But when you see the rooms at Portmarnock Resort, it’s easy to arrive at a dilemma. What’s great about the deluxe room that we stayed in is that the large windows look out onto the golf course and hills of Howth in the distance, and you almost begin to feel like you’re outside. That’s also aided by the light color choices of the carpets, walls, sheets and headboard, as well as the bright orange hued built in features.

It would be harsh to call the view that we had the second best on the property, but the expansive junior suites face the Irish Sea and allow guests to observe the aforementioned coastal islands. As for the classic (standard) rooms, these mostly open onto the courtyard, still not a bad view by any means. Then lastly, the large family rooms provide vistas either of the Velvet Strand or the gardens, where you might be just as surprised as us to see verdant palm trees. Apparently, the temperate climate created by the sea breezes allows them to thrive.

The Food and Beverage

Imagine you’ve been out on the golf course for the best part of four hours. The wind turned a reasonable 50 degree day into a formidable low 40, and now all you want is a pint of beer to recuperate in warm surroundings. That’s the Jameson Bar to a tee. Think of it as a classic Irish pub, but elevated. It’s located in the oldest part of the hotel, the building that housed the Jamesons, and it was a key focus in the first phase of renovations at the resort.

Everything revolves around a central wraparound bar that’s able to serve four different spaces, all separated with walls and each with a distinct vibe. This was where we had dinner one of the two nights, and were served dishes like crispy duck rolls, sumptuous orange and soy glazed pork belly and creamy vanilla creme brulee. Chef Tommy Butler is the man to be credited with those creations. He was hired by the new owners based on 18 years working in Ireland, France and Australia at various Michelin-starred restaurants. Naturally, the drinks menu is extensive, encompassing Irish beers on draught, mixed drinks and foreign wines.

The Seaview at Portmarnock is the other main option for dining. This is an open space located in the main hotel in an open, bright room that serves up panoramic views of Howth and the sea. We ate here for both lunch and dinner, but recommend going for lunch while there’s daylight. The menu consists of various salads, chowder and toasties (the preferred Irish word for sandwich), and we’d recommend the one made with overnight shredded beef. For breakfast, you’ll be downstairs at The 1780, named for the year that John Jameson founded Jameson Whiskey. This is buffet style, so if you’re looking for something other than a traditional Irish breakfast (eggs, sausage, black pudding and soda bread), you can check out one of the restaurants in the nearby towns.

Pro Tips

If you’re keen on exploring the area, you’ll inevitably end up taking a few taxis. And although your instinct might be to throw in a pair of AirPods, consider using it as an opportunity to talk to your driver. From what we experienced, the Irish love to talk, and taxi drivers especially see it as their duty to educate tourists on must-see spots and local lore.

Our driver was very interested to learn that we were working on a story about the golf resort, and ended up providing intel that members of the R&A, golf’s governing body in GB & I, had recently been scouting next door Portmarnock Golf Club to host a future Open Championship. Were that to happen, it would be the first time the Open was held in the Republic of Ireland, and it was only made possible after the club finally lifted its ban of female members.

Although the Jameson Links wouldn’t be getting as much attention in such a scenario, it would nevertheless result in a lot of exposure given the resort’s close proximity. He also told us that Tiger Woods used to come to Portmarnock to tune his game up ahead of the Open Championship, and he would stay at the hotel. And if the accommodations are good enough for Tiger, they’re good enough for us.

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