David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.
When the 2012 Irish Open returns to Northern Ireland next month, it will have been 59 years since one of The European Tour's most popular events, was contested, "North of the Border", making this a very special occasion for players and viewers alike. Among the players competing in this year's Irish Open, none will be happier than the three Northern Irishmen who through their own recent successes in the Majors - Graeme McDowell (2010 US Open) Rory McIlroy (2011 US Open) and Darren Clarke (2011 British Open) have become the voices of Northern Ireland's golf.
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With an enthusiasm and sincerity rarely seen in professional sports, these three have taken full advantage of the platform success has provided, to tell the world about their homeland and the exceptional golf that this tiny country of only 1.8 million inhabitants possess in profusion. They are Northern Ireland's unofficial Ambassadors of golf and what pride they must have felt when it was announced that Royal Portrush Golf Club had been selected as venue for the 2012 Irish Open.
Graeme and Darren have homes in the small seaside town of Portrush and both are members of Royal Portrush Golf Club, along with another fabled Irish golfer Padraig Harrington, who is equally thrilled by his clubs selection. Rory is no different and he has other aspirations, including a passion to also see The British Open brought back to Northern Ireland after an absence of 61 years and still counting.
"Either Royal Portrush or Royal County Down are certainly up to British Open standards" Rory insists, a fact that few would dispute. Expect the three Ambassadors of Northern Irish golf to keep prodding and cajoling whenever and wherever they can to achieve their mission. It may take years, but these Northern Irish are a determined group and have grown accustomed to winning! In the meantime they are wallowing in the joy of having The Irish Open back at Royal Portrush and you can count on all three, plus Padraig, making a special effort to put themselves in the winners circle next month, all in front of a hometown crowd.
There is always something very special about The Irish Open, not only in the impressive field of players it attracts and the variety of the Emerald Isle's top courses, both links and inland layouts that host, but also the Irish flavor the event takes on. The Irish, whether from Northern Ireland or the Republic, are golf enthusiasts like few others, with an understanding of and an appreciation for the game that is unique. Add to this a healthy dose of Irish charm and good humor and a conventional golf tournament becomes a really fun event - and this only happens at The Irish Open.
Important of course is the selected venue and at Royal Portrush, you have a stage that simply couldn't be better -- after all, Portrush's Dunluce Course is ranked as number 14 among the World's Top 100 Courses.
No greater honor can be bestowed upon any golf club than to be called upon to host the world's most historic and arguably its most prestigious golf event, The British Open. Since 1860 when The Open was first held, only an elite group of Britain's most highly regarded golf clubs and their courses have received the privilege. The list is not long, numbering just 14 clubs and all of these in Scotland and England with a single exception, Northern Ireland's Royal Portrush.
In 1951 Royal Portrush was the venue when Englishman, Max Faulkner took the championship and the famous claret jug. Never before and never since has The Open strayed from the shores of Britain's mainland.
This fact places Royal Portrush in a class entirely of its own - but this club and its two courses, have never been accused of being ordinary. From its very inception in 1888, the distinguished Royal Portrush Golf Club has always been a little different from the rest
Portrush received its Royal title in 1892, only a brief 4 years after opening. Others have typically waited for a quarter century or longer, proving their pedigree before being accepted into the elite circle of only 37 clubs in the British Isles, anointed with the Royal title.
Northern Ireland is arguably one of the most scenic regions to be found on the entire island of Ireland and the coastline surrounding Portrush, perhaps the most stunningly beautiful part of all. This is the Antrim Coast, home to Northern Ireland's spectacular natural wonder, The Giant's Causeway. There are views across the Irish Sea to Scotland in one direction and the distant hills of Donegal in the other. A more breathtaking setting for a golf course would be hard, if not impossible to find.
Royal Portrush boasts two championship layouts, but when people speak of the championship links, they are usually referring to The Dunluce Course, venue for the 1951 Open. If it were in any other location, The Valley Course would receive more of the glory it certainly deserves, but this is Portrush, an area of golfing superlatives and The Dunluce is the top dog.
Today's Dunluce layout bears little resemblance to the original, thanks to the creative genius of the great English architect, Harry S. Colt, who redesigned the course between 1929 and 1932.
From the impressive portfolio of masterpieces coming from Colt's drawing board, including England's fabled Woodhall Spa, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Royal St. Georges, Sunningdale and Royal Porthcawl in Wales (all ranked among Britain's top 30 courses) and another two dozen top layouts in the USA (Briarwood, Sea Island, Burning Tree and Pine Valley among others) he considered Royal Portrush, to be his crowning glory. There are few who would disagree - Portrush is simply one of a kind and quite extraordinary.
Measuring a more than healthy 6,818 yards and playing to a par of 72, Royal Portrush presents a very serious, though fair challenge, bringing all of the elements associated with great links golf into play.
The course is laid out in and among a landscape of giant dunes, along spectacular cliff-tops and through deep, dark valleys. Constant changes of direction and elevation make the wind blowing in from the Irish Sea, an ever-varying challenge to contend with. This is a course where accuracy is key and wayward shots are penalized to the extreme by rough that can only be described as cruel and punishing -- ability combined with a sensitivity to the elements will be a huge help.
The Dunluce Course is incredible - a chain of 18 magnificent holes, with no compromises, neither does it show any forgiveness for those who may not be up to the test it so honestly lays out. If there is a particularly memorable hole however, it has to be the 14th, aptly named, Calamity -- a 210-yard, par 3.
Standing on the tee looking toward the green, you will immediately know why Calamity is so named. It takes a bulls-eye accurate, long iron or wood shot that must not go right. Slice the ball and you'll be guaranteed a double bogey as the ball succumbs to the call of gravity, bouncing and rolling on a seemingly endless journey down a steep slope toward The Valley Course. Par here will be an exception and a bogey (or worse) far more likely -- just remind yourself, this is only a game.
A terrific links course and a joy, though thoroughly exhausting test to play. Inevitably, The Dunluce will tempt you to play it a second, and perhaps a third time. If you can squeeze it in and the club has times available, don't resist -- seldom will you have the chance to partake of links golf quite as good as this.
There are plenty of reasons to linger longer around Portrush. There is The Valley Course, not as testing as The Dunluce, but still a delight and with a sense of forgiveness that can only be appreciated, either before or after taking on the rigors of the main attraction. Immediately abutting Royal Portrush is Portstewart, with some say, the best opening hole in Irish golf and only a little further on, Castlerock, yet another treasure in Northern Ireland's golfing crown. Still within striking distance is County Donegal, and another impressive collection of superb links challenges, but get your fill of Portrush first.
Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Bushmills whiskey distillery, located on the outskirts of Portrush. It's an opportunity to sample a little of Northern Ireland's delightful rendition of "The Water of Life". And for a place to stay, you won't go wrong in choosing The Bushmills Inn. If you can't get a room, there are others nearby, but at least treat yourself to dinner at the hotel's restaurant, it's one of the best eating establishments in Northern Ireland.
If you have the chance to include a day or two at this year's Irish Open, grab it, Royal Portrush promises to stage this unique tournament in grand Irish style. If you can't be there in person, be sure to catch it on television and see some of the world's best golf talent, including Northern Ireland's Ambassadors of Golf, go up against one of the world's top links courses - then start planning your own trip to Northern Ireland, where Royal Portrush is only the beginning of a golfing story, almost 100 courses long.
For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your trip to this golf paradise, contact the Northern Ireland experts at Golf International by calling toll free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or, click here.
©2012 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.