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On Portrush coastal road
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"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.
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.
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