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.
Date: May 10, 2018