"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. Until 2019, 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 would 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. It's 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.
The Dunluce 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 new 7th—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 could 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 is a par five, played over much of the existing 6th on the Valley course, but in the opposite direction. The famous “Big Nellie” bunker from the current 17th on the Dunluce has been recreated in the dunes to the right of this new fairway. The new par four 8th is then 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”, additional tees and bunkers at several holes have been added, as well as extending the greens at holes 5 and (the newly sequenced) 15.
Mackenzie and Ebert commented as follows:
"As part of the course review exercise, investigation of the evolution of golf at Portrush was undertaken to assess how the layout had changed over the years and especially since Harry Colt laid out his final design for the Dunluce Course in 1932. That highlighted a fundamental issue. When Harry Colt designed the Dunluce in 1932, the clubhouse was over 1,200 yards away from the present clubhouse in the town of Portrush. Two of his original holes - the key 1st & 18th holes – had been lost. They provided a link from the old clubhouse to the current 17th and 18th. The existing 8th and 9th holes did not exist. Although Harry Colt was consulted over the addition of the replacement 8th and 9th holes, they were the conception of the Club’s professional, P.G. Stevenson, and Colt was not involved with the detail of the holes. This shows that Harry Colt was open to adjustments to the course required by changing circumstances.
The Club found themselves at another juncture of its evolution with the opportunities presented by the possibility of The Open Championship coming to Royal Portrush again. The Championship has grown in scale tremendously since Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug when the event was held over the links in 1951. If The Open was to make a return, The R&A were clear from the outset of the negotiations that sufficient room had to be available in the right areas to allow all of the usual infrastructure to be put in place to support the Championship. Following an intensive study of all options, the inescapable conclusion was drawn that the existing 17th and 18th holes of the Dunluce Course would have to be made available for the majority of the tented village area.
Following a detailed study of the opportunities to replace the 17th and 18th holes, the conclusion was that two replacement holes for the Dunluce could be forged from the area of the old 5th and 6th holes of the Valley Course. This will provide a tremendous arena for two dramatic and iconic holes which should quickly achieve world fame. The knock on effect was that replacement holes were required for the Valley Course. In fact three new Valley holes have been formed with the last of them giving incredible views to the beach and the sea, something which the old course did not enjoy. The Valley element of the project also involved the restoration of one of the original holes at Portrush.
It will be fascinating to see how the world’s best players handle the reconfigured links in July 2019."
Fittingly is was Irishman Shane Lowry who dominated the final two days of the 148th Open championship to win his maiden major title by six shots from England's Tommy Fleetwood amid exuberant scenes at Royal Portrush. Tough weather conditions on Sunday saw every contender fall away, allowing Lowry to cruise home for a comfortable victory.
Undoubtedly a special place in the world. From the moment the course comes into view from the road north from Belfast, you know you have a great day ahead of you. Mackenzie & Eberts changes ahead of last years Open are completely unnoticeable, a sign of some great renovation work. For example the 30 yards moved back 2nd green (completely kept to the same specifications), and the new 7th and 8th holes, blend in perfectly, while slightly upping the challenge. The 5th is one of my favourite ever holes, a short dog leg right par 4, with an infinity green with a drop onto the beach behind it, that is also out of bounds. This causes all sorts of strategic decisions! Without trying to mention every hole, some other favourites include the Himalayas 10th, with its fascinating green and surrounds. The Calamity Corner 16th is a tee shot that gets the palms sweaty, probably one of the more early examples of a heroic carry, followed by the 17th, played largely downhill, that can be massively impacted by which way the wind is blowing. An absolute Colt masterpiece. Underrated vibe as a club and friendly clubhouse, would be rude not to have a Guinness at Harbour Bar after too!
We played Royal Portrush during a quick trip to NI in December 2019. Obviously with the top 10 ratings and Open Championship hype, my expectations were high. We turned up, the rain was hammering down and winds at 50mph+. The first thing I would like to say is how wonderful the whole ‘feel’ of the club is. Portrush is a members club and you can see this by the very traditional clubhouse with members boards and history everywhere. The ‘laid back style’ however was balanced with pure class and beauty. The open championship was an honour for them to hold but the club isn’t big headed about this and doesn’t push it in your face. The course is flat out amazing. No more needed to be said. It is incredible. Fair, dangerous and beautiful. The front 9 contains holes which I would say are the best I’ve ever played. 2,4,5,7 and 8 are these holes. The front 9 is scenic and classy, the back 9...top class links! Can’t wait to come back to Portrush in the summer where the weather wont be as bad. Please experience this place.
I have a bit of a bias regarding the Royal Portrush Dunluce golf course. For whatever reason, I seem to play it well. Maybe it is because it is so gorgeous that my excitement level is elevated before I start the round. Maybe it is because I find that the golf course has fairly wide fairways and greens that are easy to read with a pace that rarely should get anyone in danger of taking three putts. But as I have said in other reviews, I do not rate courses on how well I play or if I play poorly. I rate it on what I see and experience through not only my game but the games of my playing partners. I often will walk to the back tees to see what the better players are facing for their shot.
When I look back over the past ten years of major championship golf, the best decision by the three other male majors was to return to the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush. In my opinion, the experiments by the USGA at Torrey Pines South, Erin Hills, and Chambers Bay were a good attempt to grow the game by hosting the USA’s second most important major on public courses. However, the difference is that Royal Portrush should now always be in the rotation for The Open, while the other three public courses are not good enough for a repeat visit unlike Pebble Beach, Bethpage Black, Whistling Straits, or Pinehurst #2.
Royal Portrush, much like the championship course at Royal County Down will likely always stand the test of time although the improvement in technology and the enhanced use of analytics by the top players in the world will continue an assault on near-record scoring in decent weather conditions.
While location and terrain can offer a natural advantage to some courses it still requires a skilled designer to take full advantage to produce the best routing and locate the greens at the proper locations. A great course must pose strategic questions in one’s mind so that decision-making comes into play as to the choice of club or type of shot – how much of a dogleg to take on, which side of the fairway, hit a ball low, high, fade, draw, bump, check, etc. I also support the idea of a chance at recovery: the chance to save a shot no matter what the end result is. The Dunluce course has these attributes and more. There are few better routings in all of golf. The dogleg holes are brilliantly integrated into the dunes and changes in terrain.
The greens are perfectly situated sometimes behind smaller dunes or on shelfs of land. It also has scenery. It has the element of wind. It has the variable of a lucky or unlucky bounce in the fairway or just off of it. It has vegetation on the course that if found will likely result in a dropped shot.
I played the Dunluce course before and after the previous seventeenth and eighteenth holes were replaced by borrowing land from the Valley course to build the new seventh and eighth holes. The previous finishing two holes were a letdown, despite the intimidating “Big Nellie” bunker on the seventeenth hole. As a nod to losing that bunker, a similar size and type of bunker was built into side of a large dune on the right side of the new par 5 seventh hole. I can confirm that this new large bunker comes into play.
The new two holes have substantially improved the overall golf course due to a double-win: the elimination of weak holes replaced by two of the better holes on the golf course.
There are few, if any weak holes on the course. But like the championship course at Royal County Down, there are holes that are certainly easier and serve as potential chances to break par, or on a day when the golf Gods are against you, a chance to save one’s reputation with a solid par. In my mind, these are holes 2, 3, 12, 13 and 17.
It has difficult holes such as 4, 7, 11, 14, 16 and 18.
It has several wonderful risk-rewards holes such as 5, 7, and 17.
The greens are beautifully undulating or slanted. They are well defended with good run-offs and tilted surfaces. They are sometimes disguised behind mounds such as on the fourth, or have false fronts. I do not think the greenside bunkers are much of an issue.
There are significant differences in the debate between Royal Portrush and Royal County Down as to which championship course is better. As for views from the course, while Royal Portrush is a course that one will rarely find a course that is has better views, Royal County Down is one of those courses that is superior in that the spires of Newcastle and the Mountains of Mourne are more beautiful than the higher cliff views at Royal Portrush. As for the course, Royal County Down is threaded beautifully through its dunes with an outstanding routing, yet Royal Portrush has possibly an even better routing for its terrain with the addition of the new seventh and eighth. Royal County Down’s fairways seem more often to be flatter whereas Royal Portrush’s seems to have many more humps, bumps on the fairway and run offs near some of the edges. Royal County Down has more blind shots than Royal Portrush. Royal County Down has a slightly better placement of bunkers nearer the greens but Royal Portrush has better dogleg holes. Royal County Down has more areas well off the fairway that will lead to a severe penalty but Royal Portrush has slightly harder immediate wispier rough. Royal Portrush has the superior greens.
For me, though, the difference is that Royal County Down is a more difficult golf course due to the narrower fairways demanding more accuracy off the tee. Royal Portrush’s fairways feel slightly wider although those dogleg holes present a challenge. At Royal County Down one can get into both more and deeper trouble. Also, I feel there are more decisions required at Royal County Down as to the type of shot one needs to hit. Yet, those green complexes are so good at Royal Portrush! I am simply thankful for both courses.
I have been lucky enough to have played 12 of the top 25 ....from your ‘Top100 golf courses’. Cypress Point and Pine Valley were highlights. However to have Royal Portrush outside your top 10 is farcical ! Perhaps your reviewers have not played the Dunluce links since this year’s Open Championship.
Played a number of times but cant wait to play the new holes after the open. Just pray that it isn't windy!
Now as the club prepares for the 2019 Open Championship, 'Open Doctors' Mackenzie & Ebert have been employed to ready the course for it's re-entry into the
Open Rota. The changes they have made incorporated using land formally used by the Valley Course – the second course at Portrush.
The Dunluce Course at Portrush has long been known as a stern test of golf, and a championship links of the highest calibre. In preparation for the 2019 Open Championship, the changes made have elevated the course to the top echelons of Open Championship courses. Closing holes 17 & 18 have been eliminated from the routing and two brand new holes (7 & 8) have been inserted employing land from the adjoining Valley course as well as unused land. Whilst the former holes were weaker because of the flatter terrain they traversed, the new holes are quite dramatic as they journey through the ups and downs of some wild dunes. On it's own this is a big improvement, but there is more upside with bunkers being added here and there to strengthen holes, a few new greens and the lengthening of a few holes.
The new Portrush is longer, stronger, more dramatic, more visual, and an even sterner test of golf. It should make for a wonderful 2019 Open Championship.
No doubt the Dunluce course will have more work done before the Open Championship. Nevertheless I am confident that the course itself will be one of the most impressive on the Open Rota – and therefore one of the best links courses in the world.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Wonderful place with a superb clubhouse and absolute op notch course. Some truly wonderful holes and views. Hope to revisit once the Open hype has calmed down a little.
A beautiful golf course that I played on a hot sunmers day in shorts and a T shirt. It was an unforgettable experience. A true test of golf and a proper links course right next to the sea. The 3 hole stretch of 5,6&7 are one of my favourites ever, a nice downhill par 4 with the sea on your right, followed by a tough par 3 and then a long par 5! The course is stunning and it was a pleasure to play there, I hope to return some time in the future!
I don’t think I would ever accept the notion that a golf course is perfect – not even The Old Course at St. Andrews – but boy does Royal Portrush come close. Tantalisingly close.
To say I was completely and utterly blown away by the sheer quality and golfing aura that surrounds what will be the 2019 Open Championship venue is a gross understatement. Writing this review a week later I’m still struggling to come to terms with just how good the Dunluce Links is.
I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to play all of the top links courses in the United Kingdom yet even in comparison to those placed in the very top echelon there is something about the links at Portrush, in County Antrim, which gives it an indefinable edge. It’s links golf in its most satisfying form.
I’m honestly not sure it gets much better than this. I had played Royal County Down two days prior and as brilliant as that was Royal Portrush (a completely different style of links it must be said) had a special ingredient of stardust that had me mesmerised and searching for superlatives.
Admittedly the topography is ideal for golf but Harry Colt, not overly known for his work at the seaside, has created a genuine masterpiece when he remodelled it in 1929 following the formation of the club back in 1888 as ‘The County Club’. Two of his original holes were replaced in the 1940’s with the now 10th & 11th but the essence of the course is undoubtedly his. The recent work of Martin Ebert in eliminating what were two of the weakest holes on the property (the old 17th and 18th) and replacing them with the new 7th & 8th has also taken something already very highly regarded to a completely different level.
I could describe each hole in blissful detail but it is not just the exceptionally high quality of the individual holes which elevate Portrush to a different stratosphere, it’s the odyssey the course takes you on; the timing of the holes, the exquisite routing of the links, the unexpected magical moments you experience whilst trying to golf your ball. It’s almost as if the actual golf you are playing is totally inconsequential but at the same time the actual golf you are playing is the most important thing in the world. The experience is sublime. The actual golf is even better.
There’s a curiosity about the Dunluce links, it’s a round that you never want to end, like a dream you never wish to wake up from. It is truly a dream.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
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.