"Portrush stands on a rocky promontory that juts out into the Atlantic, and, if I may allude to such trivialities," wrote Bernard Darwin in, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, "the scenery of the coast is wonderfully striking. On the east are the White Rocks, tall limestone cliffs that lead to Dunluce Castle and the headlands of the Giant's Causeway. On the west are the hills of Inishowen, beyond which lie Portsalon and Buncrana and the links of Donegal."
Since its foundation in 1888, Royal Portrush Golf Club has undergone a transformation in more ways than one. It was originally a 9-hole course, known as the County Club. The following year it was extended to 18 holes. In 1892, its name changed to the Royal County Club, with the Duke of York as patron. In 1895, the Prince of Wales came along and the name finally changed to Royal Portrush. Why who knows?
However, the biggest transformation came along when Harry S Colt redesigned the course in 1932, including two holes in an area known as “The Triangle”. Just before the Second World War, when it became apparent that the clubhouse would have to be relocated, the professional at that time, a Mr P.G. Stevenson, designed the current 8th and 9th holes, allowing the old 1st and 18th in the Triangle to be released. It would take until 1946 though before club members moved to their current premises, the former Holyrood Hotel.
The Dunluce links is named after the ruined Dunluce castle that overlooks the course. It was the venue for the first professional golf tournament in Ireland, won by Sandy Herd in 1895. The Open Championship has been held outside of Scotland and England only once; that occasion was here at Royal Portrush in 1951 when Max Faulkner triumphed. Faulkner was the last British Open champion until Tony Jacklin lifted the claret jug in 1969 at Royal Lytham & St Annes. More recently, American Pete Oakley won the Senior British Open here in July 2004.
In 2014 it was confirmed that Royal Portrush will return to the Open Championship rotation in 2019. 2011 Open Champion, Darren Clarke, was thrilled to hear that his home club will stage the tournament. “It is wonderful for the area, for Northern Ireland and the whole of Ireland that one of the biggest sporting events in the world is coming here," he said. “It's just massive, with pictures of Royal Portrush being beamed around the world to people who haven't seen how beautiful it is.”
Royal Portrush is certainly beautiful and it has one of the most dramatic entrances to any golf course. As you wind your way towards the course along the coastal road, the crumpled, undulating links land suddenly appears in front of you, flags fluttering in the breeze.
Royal Portrush is a classic seaside links, located in an evocative setting on the north Antrim coastline, blessed with magnificent ocean views. On a clear day (from the 3rd tee) you can see the Paps of Jura and the island of Islay.
The fairways nestle in natural valleys between towering sand dunes. The small greens blend perfectly into the landscape, one of Colt’s masterstrokes. The greens are generally protected by natural grassy hummocks rather than sand bunkers, further adding to the understatement.
The most spectacular parts of the course are down by the shore. The 5th hole (called “White Rocks”) is an absolute stunner. It’s a short, downhill par four with a left to right dogleg. The elevated tee provides a platform to soak up the vista. The green is perched on the very edge of the course some 50 feet above the seashore. The 14th, called “Calamity”, is a 210-yard par three; a deep chasm to the right of the green makes it a nervous tee shot.
Royal Portrush is a seriously tough cookie and requires solid driving to hold together a decent score. It will intimidate many golfers; the rough is penal (and sprinkled with heather and briar). It has very few bunkers but frankly, it doesn’t need them. The course has enough natural hazards to wreck a card, not to mention the ever-present wind. However, at all costs avoid "Big Nellie" at the 17th—it's one of the biggest bunkers in Ireland.
A trip to the Giant’s Causeway may provide some respite after a gruelling round, followed by a nip of whiskey at nearby Bushmills, the world’s oldest distillery. Failing that, you could head directly to the first tee of the Valley course. It may be the second course at Royal Portrush but it’s a little cracker.
In preparation for the return of the Open, architects Mackenzie & Ebert proposed a number of course changes to the course, the most significant of which is the replacement of holes 17 and 18 on the Dunluce with two new holes, located where the current 5th and 6th holes currently lie on the Valley course. These new holes would be played between the current 6th and 7th on the Dunluce, though they could also be fitted into the new routing between existing holes 13 and 14.
The new hole 7 would be a par five, played over much of the existing 6th on the Valley course, but in the opposite direction. It’s envisaged that the famous “Big Nellie” bunker from the current 17th on the Dunluce could also be recreated in the dunes to the right of this new fairway. The new par four 8th would then be played from close to the tee boxes on the existing Valley hole number 5, back to a green perched in the dunes at a slightly higher elevation.
Although the four par threes remain untouched, except for mowing the green further out at the back of “Calamity Corner”, there are plans to add additional tees and bunkers at several holes, as well as extending the greens at holes 5 and (the newly sequenced) 15. It’s also intended to relocate the green fifty yards further back at the par five 2nd and re-shape the putting surface on the 10th (the current 8th, which is one of two non-Harry Colt greens on the course).
A proposal to open up a small stream which is currently culverted in front of the 12th (the existing 10th) is also being considered but it seems there may be some opposition to this suggestion from the R&A so perhaps this modification will never come to fruition. Regardless of whether it does or not, there are still plenty of other changes to look forward to as the Dunluce undergoes an exciting golfing makeover.
Fantastic preparations are underway ahead of next year’s Open Championship. The two new holes on the front side are mighty additions and have been perfectly integrated into the routing. The new par 5 7th plays 600+ yards uphill and pays tribute to the Big Nelly bunker which existed on the old 17th hole. The new par 4 8th hole is a dog-leg left playing across a ridge and into a deep green that directs you back towards the White Cliffs in the horizon.
The club has finalised the concealed tunnel walk-way which is located near the 7th/9th/11th tee boxes to allow for players to easily move around that busy junction on the course. The two new holes make the front nine much longer than before, and is a huge test of golf.
The old anticlimactic 17th and 18th holes are now completely gone and have been bulldozed flat. The old 16th green is now the last green, which is a bit of a walk from the clubhouse, but still a fabulous finishing hole. The Calamity par 3 16th comes at a more pivotal stage in the round and will forever challenge golfers to hit a heroic carry to make the green.
Next year’s tournament is destined to provide low scores and lots of excitement. Thousands of miles of cable have been laid under the course in preparation for television/internet connectivity, in addition to the highest standards of green keeping. Overall, the mouth-watering layout continues to be comfortably in the Top 20 courses on earth.
It felt a bit like playing the “reborn” Ailsa at Turnberry in 2016 when I returned to one of my all-time favourite courses at Royal Portrush the other day – would the recent changes to the layout now diminish, rather than enhance, my love for the Dunluce? Thankfully, any misgivings were quickly dispelled within minutes of driving off on the 1st tee, even with the rain coming down in torrents.
There’s so much still going on around the clubhouse (new access paths from the main road) and out on the course (large-scale landscaping around the new 18th green) in preparation for next year’s Open but it was the work done last year that really impressed me. Although the two new holes haven’t met with universal approval, I think they’re fantastic replacements for the old 17th and 18th.
The new 7th is a beast of an uphill par five, played from one of several elevated tee positions, with a new “Big Nellie” fairway bunker and lovely little mini-swale features surrounding the green. Returning in the opposite direction, the new 8th then heads back towards the old 7th tee, starting from an offset tee position to the left of a new fairway that falls away along its left side into the rough.
New tees have been added, greens enlarged (the 2nd has been moved back a bit, actually), bunkers have been installed and new grass paths introduced. Swathes of buckthorn has been removed, replaced with marram grass to soften the environment mainly around the halfway hut area, and this part of the course is far more visually appealing now that the vegetation clutter has been removed.
Hats off to architect Martin Ebert and Marcus Terry from 1st Golf Construction for the new build elements on the Dunluce and to Course Manager Graeme Beatt who is overseeing the ongoing course improvements before the great and the good of golf arrive in Portrush in July of next year. From what I saw the other day, everybody can expect an epic Open tournament on a truly brilliant layout that will probably have the R&A wondering why it took all of 68 years for the event to make a return visit to Royal Portrush.
Played our society's annual match against our French counterparts over three days here at the start of October, in the remnants of Hurricanes Lee and Maria over the new layout, and what a test Portrush is now. (If anyone cares checkout https://pressgs.co.uk/ - and we won!!). In 30 mph winds gusting to 50 this is a beast - the members told us the new 7th (530 off the front tee straight into the wind) is a par 7, and they're happy with a bogey. I have to say I disagree with the previous review in that the new holes are out of place with the old course. When we played the same event here two years ago over the old layout I found the last two holes to be really dull and out of keeping with the rest of the course. The R&A and the club have set out to create an Open venue to test the best, and the new finish starting at Calamity will do just that, if there's even a hint of a westerly wind.
As well as the new holes there have been a number of alterations to the course, most notably moving the second green back 45 yards but I found the differences between the "old" and "new" layouts could hardly be noticed. Check out what work has been done by the club's greenstaff and the R&A here... https://royalportrushgolfclub.wordpress.com/
The only downside compared to two years ago is the huge increase in the number of tourist golfers now on the course, because it's on the Open rota, who took forever to get round the course. Our fourball match on the Monday afternoon had to be resumed on the 13th tee on the Tuesday morning because a number of tour groups ahead of us had taken so long to get around we could only manage 12 holes in four hours before it got dark.
Lets hope the wind blows properly during the 2019 Open.
Just back from a trip to Ireland and here are my impressions of Royal Portrush. First, this is my third trip there , following on a trip in 1993 and another in 2003. Overall Portrush is a stern test...much as I remember from past trips. The truly great holes are still truly great..holes 4, 5, the 8th..now 10..the old 13th- now 15, Calamity..world class.
However, with regret I must say that the two new holes are not worthy additions to the course..the par 5 7th does not fit visually with the rest of the course..it looks like someone air dropped a hole from Trump Aberdeen into the middle of Portrush..Visually consistency is a hallmark of a great golf course..and in this regard on this hole,,the Architect has failed...The 8th is slightly better but still not a great hole..
As much as I lamented the flat, week finish of the old 17th and 18th, they were still superior to the replacements. I suggest the Club go back and fix the 7th..it should look like a Harry Colt not a modern 2017 replacement...
Further, the bunkering on the course does not look like the traditional bunkering I remember from past trips..What happened to this architectural gem..it still shines but with significantly less sparkle than it did in the past.
Completely agree, I also found the new holes looking out of place. You are right in saying the great holes are great, but there are too many moments when I felt flat...
Pulling into the drive at Royal Portrush has this aura that few other courses have. The same can be said of Royal County Down and some of the other “Royal” Open courses. We got a sense straight away that we were welcome and also that the course was for us and no one else.
The course is currently undergoing a lot of work for the Open in 2019 and this was evident with 3 temporary greens and the sight of diggers around. Funnily enough, despite all the work, the atmosphere of the place made up for it. Also we were graced with the company of a certain European Ryder Cup Captain’s son to show us the links, we had a great day!
The course is fantastic and ranks up there with the best Open courses, out ranking many of them because it is a lot more undulating and hilly than you think. Certainly more undulating than Royal Birkdale, which boasts bigger dunes of course, but the holes are relatively flat within them. Royal Portrush has one or two blind tee shots and one or two superb downhill approach shots. Everyone talks about the par 3 14th, Calamity, and even on a still morning we played this was a brute. Such a stunning par 3 and gives you a fantastic view of the other course at the bottom of the dunes. My favourite hole was actually the first. Don’t think you are in for an easy start; in front of the majestic clubhouse and the starter’s eye on you, you have out of bounds both left and nervily close to the right, you thread your tee shot to a fairway pinched by bunkers. Once safely on the fairway the approach is uphill all the way and if short, you roll down about 30 yards into one of the deepest bunkers on the course. From my drive in the fairway, I couldn’t see the bottom half of the back left flag and scared of being short hit long left into another ridiculous bunker. Solid start.
Thankfully the course eases up a tiny bit but not for long. The par 5’s are where to score on this course.
Due to the company we were in, we were told all about the changes for the Open and the two new holes being made from the other course, which will become the new 7th and 8th, they look truly awesome and remind me of Trump International in scale.
If the wind is up, this will be a really tough course for the professionals but if not then should be great to watch them make loads of birdies!
H.S. Colt was a master golf course designer and the best of his work can be seen at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. While it may not have the dramatic beauty that nearby Royal County Down has, I think it is a more solid golf course with more shot variety and less blind shots. A classic links course that rewards bump and run shots and those played along the ground, Portrush is a worthy course to host an Open Championship as it has and will do again. I always advocate taking a caddie for any round of golf if they are available. I especially like caddies in Ireland and Scotland for their wit, humor, wisdom, perspective and charm. The last time I played Royal Portrush I had a world-class caddie. On one approach shot to the green he told me to hit the ball 150 yards. I was thinking maybe play it an extra 10 yards longer and asked "what if I hit it 160?" His answer I remember to this day - "There's no flag at 160!". This perfectly sums up the best of Irish caddies. They may not be Oxford educated but they have tons of wisdom and dispense it succinctly. If I played with him all the time, I'm sure my handicap would be five points lower. May the road rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back!
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a day with Martin Ebert (architect) at Royal Portrush to play for the second time and see the course as it will be presented for the Open Championships. I won’t go deep into the changes as I’m sure most people have read about them, but in short the arguably two less interesting holes at Portrush, 17 and 18 are being replaced by two fantastic holes that occupy wonderful terrain from the Valley Course, their second 18 hole course. The new holes are fabulous, extremely challenging and as mentioned really fit into the routing. With this new addition and some other very thoughtful changes including the moving, reshaping and addition to a couple greens which have been marvellously done, Royal Portrush is simply phenomenal and most certainly looks to make a move up the rankings. What a wonderful test of golf. Jump on any chance to play here.
We played Portrush in May as part of an East Coast and Northern Ireland golf trip. I find this a really hard course to rate, you can see what people love about the course, a fair layout, good location and some standout holes but for me I couldn’t fall in love with it.
The 4th hole (Fred Daly’s) and the 14th (Calamity) are two of the great holes in world golf and they were an absolute joy to play. Outside of them I can’t remember another hole for a positive reason.
The gentle opening 3 holes don’t get you fired up and the closing pair make you wish for the clubhouse. There was just a general lack of drama for such a highly ranked course. That being said it’s all change and there is plenty of evidence of the new holes for (The Open) being a fantastic addition to the links. The construction work was in full swing when we were there and the club do offer a fair discount to cover the inconvenience of having bulldozers humming around.
My advice would be to wait until after The Open as this will be a far better course and in the meantime skip up to Ballyliffin and play one of the great Irish links. For our group the County Down vs Portrush comparison was a non conversation with County Down superior in almost every facet.
Royal Portrush will host the Open Championship in 2019, adding two new holes and some new tee pads for the event. Even with added length, it seemed to me that the greens (and, of course, wind) will constitute the Dunluce course’s best defense. As of May 2016, there’s only one fairway bunker that would threaten a drive: the one at the current # 7. (The holes will be renumbered for the Open, but I’m using the current numbers.) As the course does feature doglegs at 2, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 16, (as well as the second of the new holes) there will be opportunities to drive through the fairway—or come up short. But there’ll be plenty of times when something less than driver will be in use from the tee—even when the planned length is added—and this will mitigate the severity of this challenge.
Along with wind, the course’s stoutest defense will be the hole locations. The greens are big enough and contoured enough that it shouldn’t be difficult for the R & A to find four challenging hole positions, though it remains to be seen if they’ll choose to do so. Among the most dastardly will be back right on # 6—where there’s a tiny corner; right side of # 7, where the green drops away precipitously and the very front of # 11, a short par 3 that often plays downwind……there’s bunker in front and the green falls away from the bunker.