It is no surprise American golfers discovered the Royal Portrush Golf Club, Northern Ireland’s gem along the Atlantic. Almost every survey lists its Dunluce Course among the best, and Golf Magazine ranked it No. 12 in the world. This January, much to the shock and delight of everyone in Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush was selected as the site of the 2012 Irish Open, being held at the end of June. It’s been more than 60 years since Northern Ireland hosted the tournament, at Belfast’s Belvoir Park Golf Club in 1949. This is a sign of the positive changes in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998.
The course originated in May 1888 as the nine-hole Country Club. The following year, it expanded to 18 holes and in 1892 became The Royal Country Club, with the Duke of York as its patron. The name changed in 1895 to Royal Portrush Golf Club, with the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) as patron.
In 1929, Harry Colt laid out plans for the Dunluce links; and in 1930, 1937 and 1947 the course hosted the Irish Open. It is the only course in Northern Ireland to have hosted the British Open, in 1951.
Overlooked by the ruins of the 13th-century Dunluce Castle, it is a historic must-play for avid golfers. Clean and straight shots are required on this course of magnificent grasses, high winds off the ocean and fairways that slope to the rough.
Minutes away from the course are the town of Bushmills, the beautiful Bushmills Inn and the Giant’s Causeway. The Duke of York, Prince Andrew, declared the renovated clubhouse open in 1997.
Hole 4 | 479 yards, par 4 “Fred Daly’s”
There is a magnificent home to the right of this fairway. The well-manicured gardens include a bench, which I imagine would offer a perfect view of the Irish Open as Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell make their way down the fairway. Drive your ball to the right of the big bunker; if you have enough distance, you might reach the green in two. The green is tucked into the left corner, and the opening is slightly obscured by a large mound on the left and a small mound on the right. I came up short on my approach and jackrabbitted a chip to the green.
Hole 5 | 411 yards, par 4 “White Rocks”
At the tee box, aim your drive right of the white rocks on top of the mound on this dogleg left. My drive headed over the rocks; a stiff wind took it right and short but still in play. In fact, it was sitting up fine, so I could take a wedge high to the gently elevated green, which is surrounded by a few moguls. I had a near-birdie, but was pleased to walk away with par while admiring locals walking on the beach and surfers riding the waves far below the cliffs. This is a wonderful picture opportunity of the cliffs over the Atlantic.
Hole 7 | 431 yards, par 4 “P.G. Stevenson’s”
On this No. 1 handicapped hole, I had to take an extra shot to make the green. The best approach is to drive your ball from the box toward the tall radio mast in the distance. There is a generous landing area; I hugged the right side and still had a significant shot to the green, which is on the left of this gentle dogleg. A long putt left me with a bogey.
Hole 8 | 433 yards, par 4 “Himalayas”
The contours of this dogleg right create a blind drive to the fairway; I slammed a shot off the tee and thought I “overcooked” the ball right. I pulled my trolley along the right side and over the hills in the rough to search for my ball; much to my surprise, not only was I on the fairway, but I had played the contours, rolling within 90 yards of the green. A few more feet to the left and my ball would have rolled off a mogul into the rough. An easy sand wedge to the green offered me a two-putt for par, turning a potential disaster into a delight.
Hole 14 | 210 yards, par 3 “Calamity Corner”
You’ve heard of Calamity Jane — Ireland has its own, and she is just as much a handful. From the tee box, it is a daunting image: The hole is straight on, but a ridge drops in front of the tee box and follows the hole along the right side. The prevailing wind comes toward the tee box and to the right, pushing drives down the hill. Calamity tried to get the best of me and pushed me down 50 feet. I was so far below, I could not see the green or flag stick but was able to muscle a sand wedge to the green and bogey my way out of Calamity.
Hole 16 | 442 yards, par 4 “Babington’s”
The handy yardage book suggests you drive your ball left of the two fairway bunkers for the best line to the green. I took a more unconventional and difficult route and landed in the rough on the right. An overzealous shot to the green remained right and pushed through the fairway to the back rough for a very difficult lie. It took two shots to get out and onto the green; Babington would not have been impressed.
Hole 17 | 581 yards, par 5 “Glenarm”
A well-struck drive to the right can place you in Big Nellie, a huge bunker facing the tee box on a high hill on the right. Many a golfer has cursed Nellie, and I could see that she had been wracked only moments before. Keep to the left side of the fairway and then fire away with your fairway wood to close the gap between you and the green. You will still have a wee bit of distance to the green — but three well-struck balls will get you there with ease.
Hole 18 | 484 yards, par 4 “Greenaway”
After a string of bad decisions and poor shots on previous holes, I wanted to come through with a sterling finish. This great finishing hole with the clubhouse beyond and to the right of the green has a generous landing area, and you can drive with confidence. I landed just on the right side of the fairway and took a 3-wood to advance over the bunkers to the center of the fairway and within a short chip to the green. I decided to take a 7-iron and bump and run the ball to the flag and stopped about a foot from the pin. An easy putt to the cup secured my final par.
Royal Portrush Golf Club
Portrush, County Antrim
BT56 8JQ Northern Ireland
tel 44 28 7082 2311
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