Donegal Golf Club, 7,300 yards long, graces a dagger of land called the Murvagh Peninsula in Donegal Bay. On your long, curving tour of Ireland’s Atlantic-side counties, this is where you stop for a dose of settled, clubby nonchalance along with 18 holes of exhilaration. Eddie Hackett, the itinerant priest of Irish golf design, brought his usual mix of golf soul and routing genius to the design of this links, called by some the “Muirfield of Ireland.” The locals tend to call it simply Murvagh
Like Rosses Point, Ballybunion and now Doonbeg, the Donegal club is centered on one of those modern clubhouses you have to keep getting used to in the Irish west, so primeval does the topography and culture feel. Its clubhouse has a seafaring look to it, white with a shallow hip roof and picture windows wrapping entirely ‘round. Views of mountains, shores and distant spires from various spots on the property will stop you in your tracks.
You buckle down on the opening holes and feel like you’re playing a stout American parkland track, except with a linksy fescue surface. As the round proceeds, land features grow more dramatic. The one-shot fifth hole plays to an obscured green, and from that point on you sense links topography swirling around you. Hackett thickens the plot with two par-5s at No. 6 and No. 8, both of them well-contoured ocean holes. You reach the clubhouse after nine feeling like you poured major energy into that stretch. Early in the back nine there is another one-two punch of par-5s, holes 12 and 14. These call for some brainy precision, in avoidance of a recurring narrow stream. It all concludes with a blind drive over a mighty sand hill to the wide 18th fairway—something to save a bit of strength for.
Of all stops on the long crescent from Waterville through Lahinch and up to Ballyliffin, Murvagh seems like the one course you could skip, based on its nonchalant, prosperous atmosphere and more quiet reputation. I loved the place, however, and found a sense of confident mirth there. Traveling on my own, I was not only paired with members but drawn into a decent little money match. On the tee I told my partner about the seven-courses-in-seven-days itinerary I had just completed. On the first few holes, my crooked ball flight suggested the toll this had taken.
“Travelin’ at such a quick pace, ye seem to have lost ye compass, Dave,” he mused. It was a kind way of putting things.
Two nights previous there had been a several-pint stop at Matt Molloy’s, a pilgrimage-worthy pub in Westport, County Mayo, owned by the Chieftains flute player. Molloy’s has a compact front bar section that gives way to a cavernous rear space well made for live music performance, which that night included a rousing rendition of the leaving-Ireland standard, “The Girl from Donegal.” All joined in, though the Donegal natives in the audience sang loudest, and the females among that group the loudest still. “He could handle a spade or court a maid”—that one lyric distills Irish country life among the peat bogs to its essence.