The Northwest of Ireland is becoming notorious for its golf; most golfers used to ignore County Donegal in their quest to play the more famous courses around Belfast in the north and Kerry in the south. Those in the know now realise that there is quality golf at a sensible price here in Donegal.
The Portsalon golf course runs along the beautiful sandy shores of Ballymastoker Bay, stretching for two miles towards where the mouth of the deep blue Lough Swilly meets the Atlantic Ocean. The beach boasts the EC Blue Flag award for its cleanliness. The Lough is trapped, to the east by the hills of the Inishowen peninsula, and to the west by the Knockalla Mountains. We are on the Fanad peninsula, territory of the ancient MacSwiney clan.
Opened for play in 1891, Portsalon Golf Club is certainly established and was one of the nine founder members of the Golfing Union of Ireland – County Down, County Club Portrush, Royal Belfast, Killymoon, Dungannon, Aughnacloy, Ballycastle, Portsalon and Buncrana. According to William A. Menton's book, The Golfing Union of Ireland 1891-1991, this stunning links golf course was originally designed by the professional at the then titled County Club at Portrush, Charles Thompson. Bernard Darwin considered Portsalon to be “a thoroughly entertaining course”.
This is an exhilarating golf course situated in a stunning location with most of the holes weaving their way between sand dunes. The seawater Lough Swilly is often in full view. It’s unpretentious, golf au natural here at Portsalon. The 2nd hole is fantastic, one of the best in Ireland. Winding its way along the Lough, the views are simply breathtaking.
If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the rare European Rock Dove that has made the coastline of the Fanad peninsular its home.
Portsalon does not have a posh club house (although the view from the restuarant is wonderful!), any practice facilities at all, or even a yardage book. What it does have is a stunning location next to the Ballymastoker Bay and a dozen superb links holes.
First a par 4 where after a good tee shot you'll hopefully see the flag in a small v-notch in the hill in front of you, a short iron into punch-bowl green. Fun start! Second hole is the best, as many have written before, having played 6 rounds in a 4 days across Donegal it's still a hole that stands out in your mind.
From then on you play in the valleys among the dunes, among the most charming and fun links golf I've played. After 12 holes unfortunately the dunes run out as you move further inland, the holes feels a bit more tricked up and cramped until they open up again for 17 and 18. They're not bad, and I'm sure I'll appreciate them on a second visit (or with a yardage book), but they're not as fun nor as good as the first dozen holes.
All in all, well worth visiting for 75€ greenfee, even more so with the discount card we had.