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5 miles N of Coleraine
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Willie Park, Des Giffin
Portstewart Golf Club was founded way back in 1894, but the origins of golf being played here date back even further to 1889. The Strand course is a bit of a hybrid, a mix of the old and the new. Major development took place in the late 1980s when the original Willie Park layout was updated and seven new holes were constructed in the virgin sand dune range called “Thistly Hollow”. The new Strand course, designed by Des Giffin, opened for play in 1992.
And what an exhilarating golf course this is, set amidst imposing, gigantic sand dunes with panoramic views across the Atlantic mouth of Lough Foyle to the Inishowen peninsula beyond.
The Strand is an incredibly challenging and thoroughly enjoyable golf course, with one of the best opening nine holes in golf. The 1st hole is an absolute stunner, one of golf’s most intimidating, a downhill 425-yard par four. There is a plethora of great holes here at Portstewart Golf Club; especially memorable are two of the new par threes, the 3rd and the 6th. The 3rd is a challenging single shotter, measuring 207 yards, whilst the 6th, measuring a mere 140 yards with a plateau green, is also a tough cookie and will stay in the mind for a long time.
Credit must go to the designer because the new holes blend seamlessly with the old holes. Sometimes, when new land is taken in, there is a punctuation between the old and the new. Not so at the Strand.
A golfing trip to Northern Ireland would not be complete without a round on the Strand course. The members here are very warm and welcoming and if you add this course to a round at both Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, you will have played three of the world’s finest links courses, all of which have played host to the Irish Open.
Fantastic – the only word to describe the front nine on the Strand course at Portstewart. If you think of playing here as a mere limber up before a round at nearby Royal Portrush then think again as you will find this place is no golfing pushover.
Another reviewer of this course speaks about the new holes on the front nine being for ‘dune junkies’. I could not agree more – what a buzz you get from the opening drive on the first until you reach the wee halfway house at the turn. You are on a high and needing the relief of a more sedate back nine to come back down to earth again – not that the back nine holes are bland in any shape or form; they are just more sedate in comparison to what has gone before.
A power of work had just been done over the winter of 2005/6 when I played, with many bunkers relined and pathways resurfaced by the look of things. Another reviewer speaks of the clubhouse being smokey and uncomfortable – that is no longer the case as there is now a non smoking policy in the dining room and members bar. Mentioning the bar, what an elevated view of the coastline from there with the waves crashing onto the shore below.
This is very special terrain with linksland to die for – if only they had gone even further into the dunes when the course was reconstructed in the 1980s. Portstewart has a very members' club feel to the place and I, as a visitor was made very welcome throughout the clubhouse.
Playing a top course is not about teeing it up and keeping the blinkers on for 18 holes – a large part of the enjoyment is about the feel of the place and the views afforded of the surrounding land. Portstewart certainly scores heavily in those categories and is well worthy of its inclusion in the elite list of ten links courses promoted by the North & West Coast Links of Ireland.
I’m sure that the Top 100 connoisseurs out there already realise that there’s some good golf to be had on the north Antrim coast, but I bet few people realise how good it really is. I have recently come back from playing some of the finest courses in the British Isles- Ballyliffin, Portrush, Castlerock (that Bann course is awesome) – but for me, the highlight of the trip was Portstewart. The Strand is a course for the dune junkies, the dunes are simply gigantic and the front nine is routed directly through them. The scene is set from the off, the 1st has to be one of the best opening holes in all Ireland and things just get better and better. The only anti-climax is the back nine, which in my view is let down particularly by the last three holes. But and it’s a big BUT, the Strand’s front nine is worthy of the trip on it’s own. Simply stunning…Des Giffin thank you.