The words of William Butler Yeats come to mind when trying to put pen to paper to record what is happening at Narin and Portnoo Golf Club - “All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.”
The members of Narin and Portnoo Golf Club were given a glimpse of what is to come at the weekend when their new re-designed course was opened to all for the Easter period.
And accepting an invitation to view the new re-design I made the journey on Good Friday to see what was happening to a course which I always felt was my favourite in Donegal.
Prior to making the journey I hadn’t made any inquiries about the work, and subsequently it was a real eye-opener to see how much chanage and how much work has been completed in a relatively short period.
The project, under the guidance of Ballyshannon-born Liam McDevitt and his American business partner Larry Foley, is way beyond what anyone could comprehend.
It is basically a complete new course!
McDevitt, who has strong Portnoo roots, was able to point out the exact area where his family had a caravan on the edge of the entrance to the course and he spent most of his youth growing up on the course during holiday periods. And now having returned, you have to think that this project is personal and he wants to leave a legacy that will benefit not just the club members but the whole of south and west Donegal.
The new re-design is being led by world-famous golf architect Gil Hanse, who might not be familiar to many people, but in the golf world he is one of the most sought-after for golf design. His design portfolio includes the Olympic course in Rio, Doral, Brookline, Oakland Hills . . . the list goes on.
And to make it more unique, Narin and Portnoo is his first ever venture into Ireland to work with a links course. It is the involvement of Hanse that has really given a lift to the project and McDevitt’s reaction when he agreed to come on board was: “I feel like we’ve won the lottery.”
For Hanse, it was a dream project. He wanted to work on a true links to create his own design and he felt that Narin and Portnoo was perfect.
On Friday last I was given a tour of the new layout by course superintendent David Colley, a Rosslare native, who has been at the club for a few years, and is very enthusiastic about the project.
“It has been a busy time but we have been able to get a lot of work done while still keeping the course open,” says Colley, who is happy to show off all the new vantage points which are part of the re-design.
Amazingly, most of the work has been done since the autumn of last year.
Nearly all of the old course is changed. Only a handful of the old greens remain. To paint a picture, starting at the 1st, a new green has been created to the left of the original to make it a little less straightforward. The lake has been taken out of play on the 2nd, while the 3rd and 4th have been combined to make a par 5.
The changes keep coming with the old 8th now the new 7th with a blind shot to a new green tucked in behind the dunes.
Many of the changes are designed to increase the speed of play, but on the back nine the creation of two new Par 3s is surely the ‘wow’ factor in the re-design. Both are visually mindblowing yet are very playable, 136 and 147 yards respectively.
Prior to the re-design the old seventh across the valley was probably the signature hole at Narin and Portnoo, and when I put it to Liam McDevitt that the new Par 3 15th might be the new signature hole, he quickly replied: “They are all signature holes.”
The new par for the course will be 71 although there is talk of the 17th and 18th being combined to make a par 5. The 18th green is going to be moved a little to the left to ensure that patrons in the Clubhouse will be able to watch players as they finish their rounds.
As part of the overall project, much work has also gone into re-designing the Clubhouse, with a large catering facility with the emphasis on being a members’ club, not a men’s or women’s club.
Everything is in place to provide both players and non-players with an ambience to enjoy a meal whether they have played golf or not.
I was given a tour of the Clubhouse by long-serving member Michael Gallagher. The changing rooms have been completely revamped with lockers only for keeping valuables while players are on the course.
“We don’t have lockers to store golf clubs any more, just players’ valuables,” said Gallagher. A large TV screen has been added to the locker room and it can double as an extra bar space when big matches are being shown. “When Donegal were playing Tyrone in the championship last year in Ballybofey, this place was full,” he said.
In monetary terms the investment by Liam McDevitt may never be recouped in his own lifetime, but there will be a legacy for the area.
The involvement of Gil Hanse in the project has given McDevitt and his team the impetus and drive for this magnificent project.
As for Hanse himself, he was overwhelmed when he first visited the golf course. At the time he said: “You’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive site with regard to the variety of the views. Maybe Turnberry would be up there. But most links courses don’t offer you this - the peninsula with the elevation changes.
“We were caught off guard by how beautiful the countryside is, particularly Narin and Portnoo - how it translates from mountain to peat to links and the rocky coast and the ocean - everything about it has been a revelation to our eyes. It’s so special.
“We’re really lucky to be here.”
It seems like a win-win for both sides.
The involvement of Gil Hanse in the re-design is bound to have a knock-on effect with the vast American golf public. When news of this new Hanse creation filters back, it will create an interest that will bring many visitors, not just to Narin and Portnoo, but to Donegal and the North West, where the range of links courses cannot be matched anywhere in Ireland.
Nartin and Portnoo, with its new re-design, can take its place now alongside the best in the country.
After this week the course will revert back to the old layout until the middle of summer to give the greens some time to mature with the arrival of consistent growth.
Hopefully, I will get back in the summer time to see how much nature has progressed the re-design.