“If Ireland was a stock, I’d be buying Donegal”
Paul McGinley’s lifelong affiliation with Donegal stems far beyond it being the birthplace of his parents. It is the setting to some of his fondest childhood memories, the place he took the first swing of a club, and in a lot of ways, it is the place he calls home. He has become a global ambassador for the county throughout his career and hosted the Irish Legends Tour in Rosapenna in 2021 – all in an attempt to shine a spotlight on Donegal as a prime golfing destination. “Donegal is an unpolished diamond in my eyes. It is the prettiest county in Ireland, and I have so much affection for the area. I cut my teeth as a golfer here, learning to play alongside my father, Michael McGinley, at Dunfanaghy Golf Club. We were extremely fortunate to spend 3-4 months of the year here as children, relishing the fresh country air and relaxed sense of freedom – a welcome break from Dublin city life at the time. I now feel so privileged to offer the same experience to my children, and we try to spend as much time together as possible in our family home in Dunfanaghy.” Having won several European Tour tournaments, played in 3 winning European Ryder Cup Teams and captaining the victorious 2014 European Ryder Cup Team, McGinley is a household name in the world of golf. Not only on the course, but also throughhis commentary on Sky Sports and his coaching career, a pathway that saw him awarded Coach of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in 2014. Like many golfers, professionals and amateurs alike, Paul McGinley believes that Ireland is one of the best golfing destinations in the world, not only in terms of the calibre of courses, but also in terms of the cultural and authentic Irish experience offered to those who visit the country. “With links courses being unique to this corner of the world, people come to Ireland because of the quality of our courses. From Royal Port Rush to Royal Portmarnock, Waterville and Lahinch, we have some absolute gems here that would stand toe-to-toe with any of the top golf courses in the world. Yet, it is the overall package that we have to offer that sets us apart – there is a real sense of love in the world of golf for the Irish hospitality. We have always been known for our warm welcome to those who visit here for competitions or golfing holidays, and our caddies have such a natural flair for conversation on the course, which people absolutely love. “Sometimes the golf itself is forgotten about in the middle of it all because the experience is so amazing and ultimately, that is what brings people back. With only 5 countries in Europe having played host to the Ryder Cup since the establishment of the event in 1927, it is an exceptional accolade for Ireland to have been selected as a host once again in 2027. It stands as a testament to the fantastic experience had by competitors and visitors when the event was held at The K Club in 2006. “Adare Manor in 2027 will undoubtably exceed all expectations. With Tourism Ireland investing millions in every aspect of the golfing experience ahead of the event, from the facilities on the courses around the country, to the continued improvement of food and accommodation services, this high-profile event will really shine a light on what this country has to offer. Not only that, but hosting it in Adare Manor, a parkland course that is unrivalled by any other in Europe, or indeed the world, will be phenomenal. With JP McManus at the helm, we can rest assured that he will put on a good show.”
Although Paul McGinley takes great pride in his adoration of the island of Ireland as a supreme golfing destination, it is his advocation of Donegal as a relatively undiscovered treasure in the market that takes precedence. The accomplished golfer firmly believes that the unique qualities the county has to offer has the potential to outrival anywhere else in the country. “I often say that if Ireland was a stock, I would be buying Donegal. Removing my personal connection to the area from the equation, there is a distinct rawness to the county, and the golfing experiences that this leads to, makes it so unique. While it doesn’t have the profile that the Southwest of Ireland does in golfing circles just yet, I think the future is going to be very centric around Donegal, and there is going to be an explosion of people coming to visit the area to play golf in the coming years. “We often see so many polished diamonds when we go to golf resorts – I myself, spend numerous months of the year in one in Florida, but while they are amazing to play in, there is something special about going to a place that is raw, where the natural landscape and scenery forms the foundations of the course, and Donegal really epitomizes this.” With rugged courses that stretch along the scenic coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way, and a sense of rurality that encapsulates the authentic Irish experience that so many seek, Donegal’s courses are home to some of the most picturesque settings a golfer can experience. That is why, when asked about his top 5 courses in Donegal, Paul McGinley had the ability to rhyme off his favourites with a profound sense of passion for the individual qualities that sets each one apart.
MY TOP 5 COURSES IN DONEGAL
“Number one for me would have to be Dunfanaghy Golf Club – as the course that I first learned how to play golf, it is one that is very close to my heart. I am a firm believer that a great course is as much about the spiritual and emotional connection that you have with it as it is about its architecture, and the feeling of being out in Dunfanaghy playing with family and friends just brings me closer to the history and friendships formed by the game.
“When it comes to picturesque settings, Cruit Golf Club is home to one of the best in the world and is a worthy number 2 on my list. It might not be the finished article, but the rawness only adds to its beauty, and the view you get from the 6th hole, as you walk out on to the cliff’s edge to play the shot over the Atlantic Ocean, is just spectacular. Right in the heart of a rural Gaeltacht area, yet easily accessed through its close proximity to the airport, it is a fantastic option for a relaxed golfing retreat. “For me, number three would undoubtedly be Narin & Portnoo Golf Club. With millions invested in the last number of years to improve the product there, it is well worth a visit. Redesigned by Gill Hanse, renowned architect of some of the most celebrated courses in the world, it has enhanced the calibre of the courses available in the county, and it will certainly open a lot of doors for people to come and visit Donegal to try out the course. “Number four is another course that I feel emotionally connected to, and that is Portsalon Golf Club. For me, I think it is important to celebrate these courses that are off the beaten track and perhaps not as widely known as some of the more accomplished courses such as Ballylifin and Rosapenna. Stretching across the shores of Lough Swilly as it reaches the mouth of the Atlantic, Portsalon is home to another beautifully rugged setting. I have done some work there to help them to improve their product in recent years and I firmly believe that it is going from strength to strength. “Heading more towards the east of the county for my number five, Bundoran Golf Club plays host to another terrific course. Christy O’Connor Senior was head pro there for many years in his youth and was a real advocate for the club throughout his career. As a cliff-top links on a rugged headland that overlooks Donegal Bay, it is one of Donegal’s oldest yet greatest courses and is certainly worth a visit.”
While the golfing star believes that it is the beauty of Donegal, and the fact that we have so many links courses with a true rawness and realness to them that people enjoy the most, he also feels that it is the level of investment currently going into enhancing the overall experience in the county, from infrastructure to hospitality, that will solidify the county’s position as a prime golfing destination. It is with this in mind that he felt so strongly about hosting the Irish Legends Tour here. “When I was first approached to be the host of the Legends Tour in Ireland, I immediately said, ‘yes, but on one condition, that I can bring it to Donegal.’ I knew that Rosapenna would be the ideal location for the event, with a perfect host in the Casey family who own and run the resort, and a fantastic course that embodies the beauty of the area. I knew that while it might be awkward to get there, it would be well worth it for all the players on the tour and I was right – they absolutely loved it.” Held for the first time in August 2021, the event brought many household names from the world of golf to the county, with Thomas Bjorn, Paul Laurie, Ian Woosnam and Mark James among the players who took part. Despite the restrictions at the time due to Covid, it was hailed as one of the most popular events on the tour and this has resulted in the 2022 competition selling out in record time. “The idea was to run it as a pro-am event, inviting lots of business people and celebrities to play alongside some of the world’s greatest golfing legends, and it was a resounding success. Everybody loved it – so much so, that every single person wanted to come back this year. As a result, we are oversubscribed, with a lot of extra people wanting to come because it was so popular amongst the players. “Working alongside Donegal County Council and Tourism Ireland, we are in the process of finalizing plans to expand the event this year, making sure that it is as popular among the spectators as it was with the players. In 2019, I hosted the Irish Open in Lahinch, where we created a big festival that coincided with the golf. The plan is to do the same here, with live music, street vendors and activities that the entire family can enjoy. We want people to come along to witness some of the golfing greats at play, but we also want it to be a big hoolie, celebrating the brilliance of Donegal and the end of what has been a difficult few years for many.” McGinley believes that golf will be a big condiment in bringing people to the area and he is eager to play his part in promoting it, acknowledging that having a facility such as Donegal Airport, which is home to the world’s most scenic landing, will be an integral link in the success of the endeavour. “Starting off your golfing trip with the landing into Donegal airport really sets the tone for what you are about to experience – it encapsulates the wildness of Ireland in all of its glory. Five or six private jets landed into the airport for the Legends Tour last year and I have a feeling that the number will increase greatly this year, as the scenery surrounding the runway was one of the major talking points of the event. Whether they come by private jet, or fly into Dublin and use the Emerald Airlines service to Donegal, a lot of our professional golfers will be coming through the doors of the airport this year.”