5 Things to Know About Royal Portrush
July 15, 2019
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
Players to watch at The Open
The Open Championship returns this week to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. The tournament has only been played outside of England or Scotland twice, and both trips across the Irish Sea were to visit this venerated links course on the northern coast of Northern Ireland.
The return to Royal Portrush is highly-anticipated, and not just because of the extended duration between Opens. Northern Ireland’s recent major winners – Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke – all have ties to the course. Because of the high demand for tickets, this will be the first Open that does not have walk-up ticket sales.
Here’s a quick primer on the course before the year’s final major gets underway Thursday.
1. A NEW LOOK
This won’t be the same course on which Max Faulkner won in 1951. Two new holes were created in preparation for Royal Portrush’s second Open. The par-5 seventh and par-4 eighth run parallel to each other on land that previously belonged to Royal Portrush’s Valley Course. The Open is being contested on Royal Portursh’s Dunluce Links, which was named for the ruins of a nearby medieval castle. The Open’s spectator village was built on the Dunluce Links’ old 17th and 18th holes.
The seventh hole includes a recreation of the “Big Nellie” bunker on the Dunluce’s old 17th hole.
The Dunluce Links was originally laid out by Old Tom Morris, then reworked by Harry S. Colt. “Mr. H.S. Colt, who designed it in its present form, has thereby built himself a monument more enduring than brass,” legendary golf writer Bernard Darwin wrote when The Open first visited Royal Portrush. “The course does not disdain the spectacular … does not depend on any such dramatic quality, rather on the combined soundness and subtlety of the architecture. Altogether I find it hard to imagine a more admirable test of golf.
“The temptation to play three rounds a day is very hard to overcome.”
The two new holes weren’t the only changes made during the renovation that started in 2015. Five greens, eight tee boxes and 10 bunkers were built, and the course was lengthened to 7,317 yards this week. While many of the holes were tweaked, they remain relatively similar to the ones used in 1951.
Royal Portrush requires players to consider angles and options, as there are eight dogleg holes that wrap around the dramatic dunes. Royal Portrush also offers several elevation changes throughout the round.
“Picking your line off the tee and whatever club you're going to hit off that tee is vitally important,” said Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, winner of the 2011 Open. “There's holes out there you can see guys hitting driver, 3-wood, 2-iron, 3-iron, 4-iron, 5-iron. It's all down to how they see the hole.
“It will be interesting to see … how some of the best players in the world try to play this golf course. You can try and take it on at your peril, if you want to, or you can try to play smart.”
2. SCARCITY OF SAND
Links courses are known for their pot bunkers, but there are relatively few at Royal Portrush. The Dunluce Links has approximately 60 bunkers, by far the fewest of any Open venue. Muirfield has more than 150 bunkers, while Royal Lytham & St. Annes had approximately 200 the last time The Open was played there.
Royal Portrush still provides a stern test off the tee, though.
Adam Scott told the Associated Press that he was “surprised at how demanding a golf course it is.
“Sometimes on a links you can get away with wide shots. Here, you don’t. It’s so penal off the tee, no matter what you hit. If you start spraying it, there’s going to be reloading a lot. If the wind doesn’t blow, there will be less of that. It is a very, very strong golf course.”
Out of bounds comes into play on several holes, especially early in the round. The long fourth hole will require players to thread a drive between a fairway bunker and the out-of-bounds to get the best angle. There’s also O.B. on the final hole.
“(The O.B.) is intimidating—also on the second and fourth and 18th,” Henrik Stenson, the winner of the 2016 Open, told GolfDigest.com. “You can see all those white stakes. They stare right at you.”
3. CALAMITY CORNER
The long par-3 16th is called Calamity Corner for good reason. Players must hit their tee shot over a yawning chasm that hugs the right side of the green on the 236-yard hole. The hole doesn’t have any bunkers, but that’s because none are necessary. It is hard enough as it is.
“The course does not disdain the spectacular, such as the one-shot hole called Calamity Corner, with its terrifying sandy cliffs and its Gadarene descent into unknown depths to the right of the green,” Darwin wrote.
The hollow left of the 16th green is named after former Open champion Bobby Locke, who, after taking one look at the hole, decided to play safely well left of the green. He saved par all four times. Players who miss right could find themselves as far as 50 feet below the green.
4. STRONG FINISH
Sacrificing its two finishing holes to host The Open may actually have given Royal Portrush a better finish.
The course now closes with two holes that offer disparate tests.
The 408-yard 17th hole allows players an opportunity to pick up the shot they may have lost on Calamity Corner. The short par-4 is much more welcoming than its foreboding name, “Purgatory.” The moniker may point to the fact that players can be stuck between two choices when they stand on the 17th tee.
A severe downslope propels balls toward the putting surface, allowing players to consider reaching the green with their tee shots. A new bunker that isn’t visible from the tee was added to the hole’s left side to some risk for those seeking a big reward. Playing safe doesn’t make things easy, though. Players who lay back will face a downhill pitch shot to a narrow green protected by bunkers on both sides.
The 18th hole offers a more traditional test. It measures 474 yards. A new tee hopes to increase the number of drivers hit on the final hole. Hitting the tee shot down the left side gives players a better view of the green. The left side of the hole is lined by out-of-bounds stakes, though. Max Faulkner famously hit a miraculous recovery from near the O.B. fence during his win here in 1951. In the third round, he hit his tee shot near some steps and barbed wire. He took some time to determine a way to hit his shot without cutting his hands on the wire. He eventually used his 4-wood to slice his ball – which flew over the out-of-bounds before curving back into play -- onto the green.
Faulkner’s playing partner, American amateur Frank Stranahan, called it “the greatest shot I’ve ever seen.”
5. PORTRUSH’S CHAMPION
Faulkner won his only Open at Portrush, beating Argentina’s Antonio Cerda by two shots. Faulkner, who wasn’t known for his prowess on the putting surface, used a new putter to take just 105 strokes on the greens.
“It was all I ever wanted. The Open meant everything to me,” he said. There is a story that Faulkner, who built a six-shot lead after three rounds, signed an autograph with the words “Open Champion 1951” before teeing off in the final round later that day.
“My God, I’d better not lose now,” he thought. His final-round 74, his highest score of the week by three shots, was enough for the victory, though.
How did he celebrate? He participated in a father-son cricket match at his son’s school the day after his victory.
Faulkner, who served in World War II, was the only British winner of The Open between Sir Henry Cotton in 1948 and Tony Jacklin in 1969. He was a flamboyant character known for his colorful outfits. His style was inspired by a hospital stay after suffering a perforated eardrum.
“Every morning the nurses brought pretty flowers into the ward, and every night they took them out,” Faulkner once said. “It was so gray without those flowers. I thought, if I ever get out of this bloody war I’m going to wear some colors.”