McCanny hopes Portmarnock Links renovations will bring a smile to all

McCanny hopes Portmarnock Links renovations will bring a smile to all


The multi-million-euro renovation project at Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links is well under way with six new green complexes and three new tee complexes opening this year.

The Dublin resort was purchased by family-owned international hospitality group Northland Real Estate Properties in 2019. With the appointment of ReGolf Design, DAR Golf Construction and Aquaturf Solutions, the course has undergone a widespread transformation this winter which is only the beginning of a planned multi-year overhaul.

Director of Golf Paul McCanny arrived at the resort in 2021 and he is excited to oversee the renovation project alongside Links Superintendent Fintan Brennan.

“I’ve been here for almost two years now,” said McCanny. “The current owners took over the place in 2019 and they had always planned to invest into all areas of the resort and one of the areas they wanted to focus on was the golf course,” explained the Derry native.

“It’s probably been looked at for four or five years. The various owners over the years have changed the place since it opened in 1995. Fintan Brennan did some of his own changes and then others would have put their own stamp on things or given him advice.

“There has always been a culture of wanting to improve the golf course. Through the good and bad financial years there has always been an effort made to push the course on. “When the Gaglardi family took over, they fell in love with the place. They were really excited to get in.”

McCanny, who attended school in St Colm’s in Derry, where legendary figures Seamus Heaney and John Hume passed through, has had a storied career in the golf industry. He became an assistant pro at Black Bush, where he served for three years from 2005. Then he got a phone call from Michael Horan to become the golf professional in a driving range in Birr where he did some custom fitting and teaching – and even had Shane Lowry using the Trackman facility.

McCanny’s big break came in 2011 when he was appointed as Head Golf Professional of Killeen Castle just a few months before the Solheim Cup was staged. He spent a decade at the Meath club, where he also oversaw three Ladies Irish Opens, before moving to Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.

“When I started here there had been a few different plans looked at with a few different designers who had been brought in and consulted. Then we met up with Jeff Lynch from ReGolf design who is very experienced and has his own company and had just finished Druids Glen.

“He gave us his thoughts and myself, Fintan and the owners and GM listened and decided what we really wanted to do was improve the golf course from a conditioning point of view in terms of irrigation. The irrigation system would have been here from the start so it’s old technology, so that will definitely help in terms of managing the water input and that has some agronomic benefits. We don’t use many pesticides and insecticides at all so that’s important.

“We also want to improve the challenge of the golf course. There were one or two areas of the golf course we felt were a little bit weak and we are targeting them.”

One of the main objectives of the design changes is to improve the finishing stretch with the highlight being changing the long par-3 17th to a drivable par-4, while also enhancing the stunning east-coast views by changing the routing of some holes.

“We have a unique feature on the east coast where we have a really nice dunescape. A lot of courses on the east coast don’t have great views of the sea or have the slopes or undulations or the dunes like we have. So we really want to try and take advantage of that and enhance the course routing, create a better variation of shots and challenge the golfer all the time.

“It’s very rare you get a flat calm day here but if you do we want to make sure the golfer is still challenged. 

“We are going to have four very strong par-3s when this is finished and some interesting par-5s.

“The 17th hole which people would know as being a very tough par-3 is a hole that is like marmite really. One of the key things we are trying to do is send people away at the end of the round having enjoyed their day.”

McCanny feels the renovations will find the perfect balance for the golfer who wants to be tested but still leave the 18th green with a satisfactory smile.


“There was a thought that to get a nice finish on the last few holes we wanted to do something. You will have a strong par-4, a strong par-3, another strong par-4 and then a shorter par-4 in the 17th, which you will be able to take on a little bit. Then 18 is of course another strong par-4.

“They are still going to be challenging but we will make them fairer and hopefully send people home with a nice memory of the course.

“First and foremost, we have to think about who our customers are going to be. People want to come and enjoy their golf while being challenged; they don’t want to be beaten up. The world has changed in terms of golf. Years ago everyone wanted to play the toughest golf course and there was a perverted enjoyment of getting beaten up for five and a half hours.

“Now, nobody wants to be out there for five and a half hours or get beaten up by the course for 18 holes.”

We have a unique feature on the east coast where we have a really nice dunescape. A lot of courses on the east coast don’t have great views of the sea or have the slopes or undulations or the dunes like we have.

- Paul McCanny (Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links) - PGA Professional

Opened in 1995, Portmarnock Links has proven an excellent host to some high-class professional events including two Ladies Irish Opens in 2008 and 2009 and the 2021 Irish Challenge. The links is also known countrywide for the famed Winter Series which has drawn professionals and amateurs from across Ireland and McCanny is determined to bring tournaments back to the resort in the future.

“We hosted the Challenge Tour in May 2021. The golf course held up in terms of scoring. Fintan and the team can pull in the fairways and dry out the greens if we want to make it tougher for tournaments.

“We would love to host tournaments again in the future whether that be professional or amateur. It’s not a necessity but we are still pretty young in our development so compared to other courses around we are more modern.

“We hosted the Ladies Irish Open in the 2000s and the Challenge Tour so we would like to progress that. The course is suited to tournament play no matter what level,” said McCanny.


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