The Portland course – named after the Dukes of Portland who did much in the 19th century to generate wealth in the area with the construction of docks at Troon harbour and the creation of coal mines in nearby Kilmarnock – is a fine links layout that is, unfortunately, totally overshadowed by the championship course.
It was designed by the second Royal Troon professional, Willie Fernie and opened for play in 1896, though it wasn’t until the year after the club held its first Open in 1923 (and Fernie retired after 37 years of service) that its name was changed from the Relief course to the Portland course. Dr Alister MacKenzie is thought to have had a hand in reworking some of the holes at this time.
The Portland measures just under 6,300 yards with a par of 71 and it lies between the Old course, the practice ground and the 9-hole Craigend course on one side and the Glasgow-Ayr railway line on the other – many may have had their car directed onto one of the fairways here when the Open is at Troon, never knowing the land is far more than just a car park!
The Portland is laid out in two loops of nine holes, each of which return to two clubhouses – one exclusively for ladies – that are separate from the main Royal Troon clubhouse. There are no par fives on the outward half but that is balanced on the back nine with four birdieable three-shot holes, all of which are less than 500 yards in length.
Steer clear of the gorse and railway line on the early holes, avoid the ditches on some of the closing holes and keep out of the cleverly positioned bunkers all during the round to have a good chance of playing to handicap on a very fair and somewhat understated test of golf.
Possibly the most underrated course in Scotland. Terrific layout great conditions and a perfect compliment to the Old course. You will be making a mistake if you overlook this hidden gem.
Plenty of under-rated course though whether Portland falls in to the category of 'most under-rated' is a matter for personal choice. It's a good course for sure and possibly it lives in the shadow of the Royal Troon championship links but I'd place St Andrews New and Jubilee well ahead of Troon Portland not to mention other truly under-rated courses like Southerness, Panmure, Scotscraig, Ladybank, Old Moray, Luffness and Elie.
The second links at Troon, the “Portland” created by Fernie in 1895 and formerly known as the Relief course, has its moments of excellence too but undeniably plays second fiddle by some margin.
The best of the golf is away from the area around the clubhouse where the 1st, 9th, 10th, 11th and 18th are located. Once we head into the heart of the links there is some good golf to be had.
The green complexes at 2, 6, 8, 13 and 16 make for compelling holes and the dog-leg third is a beauty too. Meanwhile, the set of five short holes is extremely impressive but these are countered with five rather non-descript three-shotters, five in the last ten holes, which make this 6,349-yard, par 72 layout a bit of a slog at times but still well worth a play.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I played here in February 2008, two years after my first round and enjoyed the experience just as much as first time around – though I played much better the first time!
Hole number 3 is a real tester as you cannot see the slight left dog leg that the fairway takes from the tee.
I inquired about the intriguing wee foot bridge over the railway between the 4th and 6th back in the clubhouse and this public right of way was once where the seaweed was taken from the shore to fertilise the farmland nearby!
The 11th is the first of back-to-back par fives on the inward half and is probably the best hole on the course.
I’d forgotten about the ditch running diagonally across the 15th hole (it has to be avoided again laterally at the 17th) and promptly drove straight into it – with one of my better drives too!
The Portland is open to visitors as a day ticket package with two rounds plus lunch or, for an extra hundred quid, as a warm up before playing the Old course. It’s a lot of money for many I know but worth playing to get your eye in before tackling the Open venue next door – oh, and the new, refurbished Royal Troon clubhouse across the road from the Portland is simply sensational!