Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland is one of those courses you always see popping up on “Best Courses In The World” lists, but it’s not the most well-known—or accessible—track. Tucked onto a remote coast, far from major population centers, it hasn’t hosted many significant events—the Open Championship last came its way in 1951—but this week ought to raise Royal Portrush’s profile considerably.
A classic links course running alongside the Irish Sea, Portrush’s Dunluce Links, like its coastal brethren in Scotland and the rest of the UK, takes a beating from swirling winds and sideways rain. Even so, it’s a magnificent kelly green layout, one that’s going to test the skills and souls of the world’s best golfers. Brooks Koepka-esque strength alone won’t get it done here; the winner will need to play the winds, the rain and his own doubts.
Dunluce Links: History, Zeppelin and ‘Game of Thrones’
Dunluce takes its name from an ancient, now-ruined castle that overlooks the links from the east. Built in the 13th century, its steep drops made it almost invulnerable to attack … but not to weather, and according to legend, a chunk of the castle fell into the sea in 1639. More recently, it showed up in the interior gatefold of Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” album (ask your parents or older siblings what “albums” were). Dunluce also served as a “Game of Thrones” set—the ancestral home of House Greyjoy, for the Westeros-literate out there.
Royal Portrush dates to 1888; back then, it was known as “The County Club” and ran only nine holes. The club earned its “Royal” designation in 1895 and began hosting larger championships, including the only Open Championship outside England and Scotland in 1951. Quite a few years later, a 16-year-old local set the course record at 61. You might have heard of him: a lad named Rory McIlroy.
As lovely as the course was when hosting locals and tourists in the know, it wasn’t major championship caliber. So in 2015, architects set about carving up the course, both to challenge the world’s best and to meet the demands of a tournament that will draw 100,000 people to this corner of Northern Ireland.
The 17th and 18th holes, often deemed an unspectacular finishing run, were converted into flat space for a tent-filled spectator village. Architects then claimed the 7th and 8th holes from the adjacent Valley course. Dunluce now ends on what had been the 16th hole.
Major Portrush holes
Holes of note include the fourth, named “Fred Daly’s” after the first Irishman to win The Open, a tight 480-yard par 4 with zero room for error on either side. The fifth, “White Rocks,” doglegs right to a green that overlooks a beach known as, oddly enough, White Rocks. And the 16th, “Calamity Corner,” will draw all kinds of interest this week — it’s an uphill par 3 that demands a shot over a ravine onto a rippling green.
Here’s the scorecard straight from the course. The yardages will be a little different, but the descriptive names will remain the same:
Dunluce will run 7,337 yards for the Open thanks to the lengthening of a few holes, and the bunkers will increase from 59 to 62. The magnificent views and challenging conditions ought to make Dunluce at Royal Portrush one of the mandatory stops on the Open Championship rota, and with two more Opens slated after this one, the course will get its chance to establish its legend.
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