The Valley course at Royal Portrush Golf Club was originally nominated by Stuart as gem and was added to the Top 100 site on 15th February 2005. Since then, the Valley has become a ranked course. Stuart’s original nomination article follows: “I’d played the Dunluce course a few times before finally deciding to play the Valley and pound for pound, the Valley is significantly better value at about a quarter of the price of the big Dunluce. For dune lovers, the Valley is set in more tumbling terrain with the holes cut between the dunes. You feel much more enclosed here than you do on the Dunluce. I certainly think Royal Portrush is missing a trick with the Valley course. They should market the course better than they do so that a few more people can get to know and love it like I do.”
The Valley lies between the East Strand and the Dunluce golf course in Portrush. As its name suggests, the course is situated between the huge sand hills immediately along the Atlantic shore and the higher ground on which the Championship course is laid out.
That is not to say the holes of the course are routed over anything like plain, level lying land, far from it, as the Valley has more than its fair share of the humps, hollows and undulations to be found on any links worthy of the name.
|Jim visits the Rathmore Club to see Graeme McDowell’s US Open Trophy. Click here for more.|
Although owned by Royal Portrush Golf Club, the Valley has been the home club to the members of Rathmore Golf Club since its formation in 1947. Royal Portrush Ladies are also based at the Valley and it is very hard to avoid the impression that Royal Portrush are happy to keep all bar the gentleman members and the big spending golfing tourists off the Dunluce.
How many people have made a point of playing Royal Portrush Golf Club and never given a thought to playing the sadly underrated Valley – something approaching 90%, perhaps even more? And that’s a real pity as the 6,304-yard, par 70, Valley is a very fine test of links golf, with greens, in particular, every bit as well tended as those next door. Harry Colt is credited with designing the course three years after the Dunluce and he was never known to put his name to many, if any, poor courses.
James W Finegan on the course: “The Valley Links, as its name suggests, is tucked away, down in the lower reaches of the club property, tall sand hills enclosing the acreage and blocking out any view of the sea. A sheltered quality, an attractive snugness, if you will, characterizes the course… The Valley course is full of very good golf holes. Even accomplished players are challenged – and all of us are charmed.” From Where Golf is Great – the finest courses of Scotland and Ireland.
To accommodate changes to the Dunluce course, the existing 5th and 6th holes on the Valley have been replaced with a new par three 15th, played after the existing 16th (the new 14th), and a new short par four 18th, which will start from a new tee position in the dunes and progress to a green close to the 1st tee on the Valley course.
Two feature holes on the card are played back-to-back on the front nine and they are situated at the furthest point from the clubhouse. They epitomise all that is good about golf at Portrush. The 336-yard, short par four, 5th hole is played from an elevated tee in the sand hills to a green with steep drop offs left and right framed by towering dunes and protected by menacing, deep bunkers. The 237-yard, par three, 6th hole is then played slightly uphill to a green with its right hand edge obscured by a dune tongue. Beware of the bunker sited short and left of the green and also the steep drop off to the left of the apron.
In addition to these changes, the existing 17th (the new 16th) has been extended to a doglegged par five and the new 17th restored from old, obsolete tees to one of the greens on the 9-hole Skerries course.
Exciting times ahead for the Valley course.
The Valley course, whilst connected to the Royal Portrush Golf Club, is more closely associated with both the Ladies Club and Rathmore Golf Club, home to GMac, he of Pebble Beach US Open fame. It’s the slightly poor relation to the Dunluce; less of a championship test, but one that’s more accessible, scoreable, and dare I say it, probably more fun for the average golfer.
I visited the course for the first time this April knowing that two of its best holes were stolen to create the Dunluce’s Open routing. I was concerned that this might create a lesser course, but more on that shortly. When looking at the Valley course from up high, whilst playing the Dunluce’s infamous Calamity hole, the Valley doesn’t look like much. What you see below is War Hollow. A relatively flat piece of land that sits within a large valley, hence the course’s name, and where a battle once took place at the start of the 12th Century between the Chieftains of the Route (the home team) and the King of Norway (the away team). Within this valley, around half a dozen holes are located. These are decent holes, quite straight forward in their design and holes you can open your shoulders on, but they aren’t what the course should be characterised by. The 4th is the first hole within the valley and has a green that’s set in front of the large dune that Calamity sits upon, whilst the 5th and 10th have quite excellent green complexes, but it’s outside of this area where the best of the land sits.
The 1st and 2nd play through and around small dunes and provide a relatively soft but pretty opening, whilst the drop shot 3rd is a cute par three, one that you’ll have taken a glimpse of earlier if you’ve warmed up at Royal Portrush’s fine practice facilities. Coming out of the valley, you play the 6th where you're required to thread your ball between two small dunes and over a sunken fairway. The 7th, Cradle, is a cracker of a short par four with a hidden dell for a green site, where a taller dune on the left can obscure the line of sight to the green. The 8th hole then takes you back towards the valley, and is a little madcap in its design. It’s a par five where the line of entry would be best suited from the fairway of the previous hole, but those meanies at Portrush made that line of approach an internal out of bounds. Instead, you need to take the left-hand passage which means the approach to this par five is semi blind, reaching across a huge dip in the land to a tucked green.
Once past the next section of valley holes, the run into the clubhouse is electric. The 13th has a beautiful natural green site with bunkers hidden within swales, whilst the 14th, a short par four, naturally tempts you to correct your line of approach directly towards the green, rather than sensibly playing along the bend of the dogleg. 15 is one of the new holes, and an excellent par three framed by large marram grass covered dunes. This hole plays perpendicular to the angle of the majority of holes on the course.
A par five - three - four combination finish then completes the round. The 16th having been extended into a testing long hole, whilst the 17th was rediscovered by Martin Ebert and co after a century of being in the wilderness. Any ball landing short here will find its way falling back towards the bottom of a valley. The new 18th meanwhile, was one I found out from a local caddie to be derided by Portrush members and there is talk of a redesign. I personally fall onto the other side of this argument. The teeing ground is set high in the dunes providing the only views of the spectacular beach setting. Whilst the fairway is of the lumpy, bumpy variety, so the design team resisted the urge to iron out these handsome creases when building it. I’d be worried that any changes to this hole would result in something more uniform and compliant. I’m not always a cheerleader for Martin Ebert, but I personally felt that the changes he’s designed at the Valley fit seamlessly with the rest of the course and should be allowed to stand the test of time.
I recognise that my review of the Valley is a departure to some of those views below, but characterising the Valley around its half a dozen flat holes is really missing the delights of the rest of the course. If given the opportunity to create a personal top 100 of Great Britain and Ireland, the Valley would belong firmly in my list. I beg you to play it if you’re visiting the other top courses in the area. You may not agree with my personal ranking, but it’s a very pleasant departure from the more challenging links courses on the North Antrim Coast and allows for both an easier walk as well as providing entertaining matchplay holes. This is the kind of course for which I seek when I’m on my travels across the British Isles, and I hope my review goes some way to sway others to enjoy a wonderful course that they might otherwise have overlooked. Portrush might just be the best 36-hole links venue in the UK.
Great review Tom, I echo every word of it. Great to see others discover the sheer quality and fun of this gorgeous layout.
The Valley is a solid course with a few highlights, particularly I thought its new holes. Much of the course plays parallel to the beach so you’re enduring the same wind, but the new 15th and 18th holes go towards then away from the sea. These are the second and third photos below.
Once through the short, treacherous but fun 3rd hole you spend a lot time out in the flat valley area, which for me is where holes blended together and it felt like you were playing the same shots. A break from this was the long, blind 8th which is even called Switch Back, the meaning of which I learned on here recently.
I would therefore recommend Valley if in the area but some its land is a bit too flat. These fairways still have ripples but in my uninformed opinion could have used a few more bunkers to add definition and variety. If this was in Scotland I’d rank it around the same level as Montrose and the Jubilee course, and in England maybe Littlestone and Seaton – so still pretty, pretty good. If you are playing then the car park and starter’s hut are at the Rathmore Club, not the Dunluce clubhouse.
I am suprirsed that this course isn't regarded more favourably, it lacks the prestige of the Dunluce and nearby Port Stewart Strand.
It is in fantastic condition and has wonderfully designed holes with thick penal rough and subtle contoured greens.
Lovely beach view from the 18th tee box, definitely bring your camera for this one.
This course rewards precision over length. Some of the par 3s are great fun to play.
Royal Portrush Valley is a cracking course in own right and the layout and conditioning exceeded expectations. My group varied in ability from the scratch golfer to the high handicapper and it was fun and challenging which is the perfect combination. The mix of short and long par 4’s ensured that nearly every club in the bag was utilised and the par 3 holes were excellent. Greens and the surrounds were maintained beautifully and if the player missed the green they had plenty of options to recover by either running or lobbing the ball onto the surface. I cannot remember any weak holes but the standout holes were the 8th a mid length par 5 with and semi blind down hill approach to very undulating green. The 16th is another cracking par 5 which dog legs from left to right before you approach this raised green which has a false front which repels the ball off the green. If you are visiting Royal Portrush is would be a real shame if you did not make time to play the Valley course.
It blows my mind how people can play the Dunluce and miss out the Valley course. If you are planning a trip then you have to include the Valley. It makes for a perfect second round of the day, or first round of the plane. It's not long and its not hard, so it won't beat you up. On top of this, it is just loads of fun.
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd are all simple, short and quirky holes. 7 is a lovely short par 4, and 8 is honestly one of the best par 5s you'll ever play. 9 and 13 are really good par 3s, and the course just gets better from here. You're now playing under a huge dune, all the way home, starting at 14. 15 is a great par 3 downhill towards the dune, and 16 is another outstanding par 5. 16 and 17 both have extremely fun green complexes, 17 being a huge punchbowl, making a super fun par 3. 18 is a lovely downhill par 4 to finish.
A must play. As fun a course as you'll ever find.
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Royal Portrush can also boast a second course and a very fine one The Valley Links is too. The first tee is located around 700 yards from the main clubhouse (you can drive or walk down the old 18th fairway) where you will find a starters hut and buildings for the Ladies Branch of Royal Portrush Golf Club and the clubhouse for Rathmore Golf Club.
Following an innocuous, but perfectly acceptable start, the round really gets going at the 6th from where we enjoy a run of holes until the 10th which are quite excellent. The 6th, 7th and 8th in particular offer much shot-making opportunities - I simply loved the short par-four 7th ‘Cradle’ where you have a number options on how to find the putting surface with your approach and the 8th is a bamboozling long hole.
We must then find some big hitting for the up and down nature of the flatish 10th, 11th and 12th before a wonderful run for home which contains some full blooded links golf.
The Valley course, also originally designed by Colt, recently lost two holes (5 & 6) to the main Dunluce course but created some new ones towards the end of the round to compensate and tweaked a couple of others. The slightly altered 16th (now a par five) is the highlight from this rousing closing stretch which also contains a couple of very good short holes and a fun finisher over bumpy ground.
The course in its own right is a very fine links and one that makes a fine bedfellow for the Dunluce. It’s no pushover either at 6,346-yards, the par is 71.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
A fine second 18 and second round of the day. This is a perfectly good golf course, but pales in comparison through no fault of its own, to one of the true greats next door. It's readily apparent why it's called the Valley course and it does lack the movement of the Dunluce course.
That said, there are a bunch of quality holes here, with some well positioned bunkers and just enough turn in some of the doglegs to keep the interest up. The course was pretty much empty when we played it, so makes for an easy ad-hoc second round.
I've played this highly under-rated track three times, most recently in July 2018 on a day of overcast skies and some drizzle. Given the quality of this course, it is mind boggling that the weekday green fees are only 42 GBP. The holes are skillfully carved into a valley of dunes, with excellent greens and nice variety from hole to hole. The recent redesign unfortunately came at the expense of a very long par three (formerly hole #6), but the slightly revised layout is still top notch. It should be played either in tandem with a trip to the adjoining championship Dunluce links (entrance roughly a half mile away), or as a cost-effective, slightly shorter alternative. Pat M., Houston, TX
Two years since the last review! Seems legitimate, since we were the only ones on the course that rainy morning. After spoiling ourselves during the one hour delay in the great pro-shop at the Dunluce course, we got off and after two or three mediocre holes , we arrived in the valley that this course was built in. The Valley course has a wide variety of golf holes, has a very fair feel to it and actually is a class-course. I loved the par 5 7th, the par 3's are very scenic and the finish is especially good. One can only see the sea on the 18th tee, and the wonderful sight made for a great end to our yearly trip. Portrush and it's neighbours very rightfully make the destination one of the golfing capitals in the world, as you can strongly feel the history, purity and love for the game. MO