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Donegal Golf Club in northwest Ireland lives up to its reputation as a "big hitter's course"

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

MURVAGH, COUNTY DONEGAL, Ireland -- It's a mistake that's been made by many an American tourist.

Donegal Golf Club
Windswept dunes are a signature of Donegal Golf Club, also called Murvagh.
Donegal Golf ClubDonegal Golf Club - hole 5Donegal Golf Club - hole 8

Foreign golfers just glance at the scorecard of Donegal Golf Club and notice the numbers "6,329" at the listing for the white tees. Folks, those aren't yards -- they're meters -- and those shouldn't be your tees.

There's a reason Donegal -- also called Murvagh by the locals -- is known as a big hitter's course. It's long, might long, from every tee box thanks to an extra par 5 on the front nine.

The 6,760-meter course is a rare par 73, stretching to roughly 7,400 yards from the blue tees at the tips. The whites play to around 6,921 yards, so unless you're a scratch player, the winds of northwest Ireland will blow your scores away from those tees. The 6,166-meter orange tees (6,721 yards) and the 5,893-meter green tees (6,445 yards) offer plenty of challenge, especially during the summer months when members are wary of the thick rough. The course record is a mere 69, proving just how much fight there is in this links.

"This course has got trouble on both sides," Donegal Head Professional Leslie Robinson said. "In the summer, you hit a lot of three-woods and hybrids."

Irish legends Eddie Hackett and Pat Ruddy lend a hand

Donegal Golf Club was established in 1959. Irish legend Eddie Hackett built a new links for the club in 1976 on a more remote finger of land on the Murvagh Peninsula. This unique point is only accessible by a one-lane road cut through the forest. Traversing this passage feels like an escape from the real world.

"When you drive through the forest, you just share (the course) with the birds. It's just peace and solitude," said Larry Walsh, a member of more than 30 years.

Pat Ruddy, another legendary Irish architect, has helped the club stay current, spearheading major remodeling on eight holes in the last decade. Ruddy's work deepened bunkers and made greenside runoffs steeper.

Solving the mystery of Murvagh

Even though length is a factor on most holes, it's accuracy that allows players to score at Donegal Golf Club. Approaches must be to the center of the plateau greens, or they will bounce hard and carom into unruly lies. Tons of bunkers will dirty the scorecard. There are 11 traps alone on the par-5 fourth hole.

The par-3 fifth, called "Valley of Tears," plays to a green tucked into a ridge. Shots short end up in treacherous traps well below the green, and those tugged either way find the dunes. The sixth hole, the course's top par 5, showcases the best of the dunes.

After the excellent par-4 seventh, there's a design quirk at the par-5 eighth. The blind second shot over "Moyne Hill" befuddles many first-time players on this awkward hole.

A highlight of the back nine, the deceivingly difficult par-4 11th requires an extra club to an elevated green guarded by a mound that serves as a false front. Burns cut across the fairways of the two par 5s on the back nine, No. 12 and No. 14.

Although there's nothing wrong with the final loop, the front nine plays and looks significantly more dramatic. Robinson admitted there has been some talk of switching the nines, but it doesn't sound like it's under serious consideration.

Donegal Golf Club: The verdict

Donegal Golf Club is probably the least scenic of all the links in northwest Ireland.

That's not a knock but a tip of the cap to the sheer beauty of Enniscrone Golf Club and County Sligo Golf Club. Donegal remains a strong test of golf worthy of a visit.

The members are friendly, and your reception and round are sure to be memorable.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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