Paul McGinley to continue Donegal GC renovation in autumn

  • Donegal GC McGinley renovation
    Paul McGinley Golf Course Design

    Paul McGinley Golf Course Design is underway with a three-phase renovation project at Donegal Golf Club in Ireland

  • Donegal GC McGinley renovation
    Paul McGinley Golf Course Design

    The first phase was completed in May and focused on holes sixteen to eighteen (pictured)

  • Donegal GC McGinley renovation
    Paul McGinley Golf Course Design

    At the second (left), McGinley will remove fairway bunkers to improve the hole’s playability. And on the third, McGinley proposes removing a mound and widening the front of the green

  • Donegal GC McGinley renovation
    Paul McGinley Golf Course Design

    For the fourth (left), the design team is proposing removing the three left fairway bunkers, adding two small greenside bunkers and widening the green. While at the fifth, the hole will undergo substantial earthmoving to enhance its playability

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Paul McGinley Golf Course Design has completed the first phase of renovation work at Donegal Golf Club, located on the Murvagh Peninsula on Ireland’s Atlantic coast.

The course was originally designed by Eddie Hackett in 1973 and was remodelled by Pat Ruddy in 1992. It has holes playing along sand dunes with views of Donegal Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and the Bluestack Mountains.

In February 2024, the club appointed McGinley to develop a masterplan. During his acceptance speech to members, he said: “While my first request from your course committee has been to outline an overall masterplan, with general ideas on how to improve each hole as well as the practice facilities, I am cognizant of the building of trust in the process with you, the members, on how we go about any work. Like most projects in life the key and secret are in the planning.

“I will move and work in stages so that my ideas can be revealed slowly and agreed on before we move to the next stage. That planning starts with this overall masterplan, from there we move to the individual holes and finer details and once that is approved by the membership, we will schedule the work.”

The design team’s work is focused on greens, bunkers and tees as well as native areas, irrigation and pathways.

“I am advocating for the redesign and expansion of sections of the greens,” said McGinley. “Initially, all will remain in their current locations however there are a few greens – such as seven, eight and fifteen – that potentially could be moved to new positions. We will leave those greens until later in the project as we focus on the low handing fruit of greens that with small changes will immediately improve playability as well as optionality on pin positions. I envision the greens to be slightly bigger in size but similar in concept to what has already been designed with their subtle rather than significant changes in elevation.”

Bunkers will be renovated to a revetted style, with the number of bunkers to be reduced by around 25 per cent to improve playability and reduce maintenance costs.

“Classic revetted bunkers are the chosen style of all these links courses and Donegal Golf Club should be the same,” said McGinley. “The lips of these bunkers will not be particularly high, and players will be able to walk in without the sense of entering a hole in the ground. The present sand will be tested and if not suitable, new sand will be chosen that has already proved to work best at other courses in the north and west of Ireland. This is necessary so as not to have it blown out in heavy winds.

“All bunkers will be carefully aligned to the direction of play. The fairway bunkers will also not have high leading lips. Taking out some fairway bunkers will make the more difficult targets easier to hit, the second hole is a good example of this.”

The first phase was executed between March and May and focused on the closing three holes. Also, a new 2,500-square-metre turf nursery was built to support future work.

The second phase, holes two to five, will begin in autumn, while the final phase, which focuses on seven holes, will take place in 2025.

“Our masterplan calls for an evolution, not a revolution,” said McGinley. “The core principle is that the course needs to be more playable for the membership and all standards of player. At the same time, it should be seamlessly prepared for major events by creating optionality on tees and challenge on greens that allow pins to be tucked when needed.

“Donegal Golf Club is one of the very best canvasses of any club in the country. That is what both excites and motivates me to best utilise the terrain while also honouring the history, routing and flow of the course.

“The property is on one of the most weather exposed sites for golf anywhere in the world and all design ideas will be put forward with that in mind. What is clear and needed is a coordinated and uniform design as well as a strategy around the building and maintenance of the course features.”

McGinley’s team will work with superintendent Paul Travers and his greenkeeping crew on the project, with Travers responsible for renovating tees, which will remain in the same locations.

“All tees will be rectangular in shape, slightly raised in height, flat on top and pointed precisely in the direction of play,” said McGinley. “From a design standpoint they will be raised and flattened to varying degrees where needed.”

One focus for the design team, especially on the opening holes, is to minimise the chance of an out of bounds tee shot. New tees will also take advantage of the site's coastal views and forward tee options will be expanded.

Installing an irrigation system has become a priority for the club. “The changing climate in Ireland with hotter summers and drying winds make it essential to have the option of irrigation,” said McGinley. “We have a great opportunity to add irrigation while reconstruction of each hole is undertaken, avoiding the inevitability of going back later to add it in, which would cause more disruption and higher costs.”

Native and wild grasses will be protected and enhanced during the renovation. The design team will consult environmental experts when adding new wild grasses to out of play areas, while the dunes will remain untouched in accordance with national ecological policy. “Moving sand will be kept to a minimum, however, the fifth hole will need substantial earthmoving to enhance its playability according to my redesign,” said McGinley. “For any sand that is removed, we will have a plan on where it is to be relocated for playability reasons or to enhance the framing of a hole.”