Royal Portrush Golf Club - Course Guide
It’s a golf course that doesn’t have a bad hole on it.
When Royal Portrush returned to the Open rota in 2019, the whole of Northern Ireland fizzed with anticipation.
Now the watching world would get to see the venue where, famously, Rory McIlroy had shot an astonishing 61 as a 16-year-old to mark him down as a future superstar.
But despite its reputation and ranking as one of the greatest golf courses in the British Isles – and, indeed, the world – would the hype be justified? Would the best players on the planet give it the stamp of approval?
The answer was an emphatic ‘yes’ as Royal Portrush passed the test with flying colors.
Located on the North Antrim Causeway Coast, about an hour’s drive from Belfast International airport, the 36-hole club was founded in 1888 and opened as The County Club. It achieved its ‘Royal’ status under the patronage of the Prince of Wales in 1895.
Royal Portrush consists of two 18-hole courses. The Valley Links is a good test but it’s the Dunluce Links which gives the venue its elite status.
The latter was the first venue outside of the island of Great Britain to stage the Open Championship in 1951 while it was a regular host for the Senior Open Championship in the 1990s.
The 2012 Irish Open was also held there before, in June 2015, the R&A announced that the 148th Open Championship would be heading to Royal Portrush.
After wowing in 2019, Portrush has been guaranteed two more Opens in the next 30 years but that will be the bare minimum.
No surprise given that 237,750 spectators turned up to see it for themselves in 2019 – the second biggest attendance in the tournament’s history.
Royal Portrush’s Dunluce Links was extended to 7,345 yards for the Open Championship, playing to a par of 71. Ahead of the 2019 event, the 17th and 18th holes of the original course were replaced by two new holes (7th and 8th) of land that was part of the Valley Links. Holes 7 to 16 became 9 to 18 on the redesigned course. McIlroy’s 61 came on the original layout.
This classic links, set among the dunes, affords some wonderful views of the sea due to its many elevation changes. Strong winds can add to the challenge, as do the deep bunkers. The bouncy turf is again a classic links trait while the mixed-sized and undulating greens look impeccable but provide hidden mysteries to golfers of every experience. Demanding holes (especially the par 3s), breathtaking scenery and a feeling of being at one with nature, golf doesn’t get much better than this.
Royal Portrush Fast Facts
Yardage: 7,317 yards
Designer: Harry Colt (note that Martin Ebert made extensive changes in 2015)
Royal Portrush course record: Original course – 61 Rory McIlroy (2005 Amateur Open Championship); new course – 63 Shane Lowry (2019 Open Championship)
Past Tournaments at Royal Portrush
2019 Open Championship
As local hero Rory McIlroy fluffed his lines by taking a quadruple-bogey at his opening hole and missing the cut due to a first-round 79, another Irishman, Shane Lowry, sparked scenes of jubilation with a six-shot win over Tommy Fleetwood. Lowry opened with a pair of 67s, kicked clear with a course-record 63 and kept his cool with a closing 72. It was the highest winning margin in a major for over five years.
2012 Irish Open
Jamie Donaldson secured his first European Tour win at the 255th attempt after firing 18-under to win by four. His closing 66 pulled the Welshman four shots clear of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Anthony Wall and Fabrizio Zanotti as many TV viewers got their first proper look of the famed Royal Portrush.
Senior Open (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2004)
The course held five straight Senior Opens from 1995 and produced a list of classy winners. Legend Gary Player hoisted the silverware in 1997 while Ryder Cup stars Brian Barnes (1995, 1996), Brian Huggett (1998) and Christy O’Connor Jr (1999) took the other four. The tournament returned there in 2004, with American Pete Oakley battling to a one-shot win.
1951 Open Championship
In wind and rain, just two players broke par in Royal Portrush’s first Open Championship. England’s Max Faulkner emerged with the claret jug as rounds of 71-70-70-74 put him two in front of Argentine Antonio Cerda.
Par 4, 421 yards (Hughies): Rory won’t forget this one after his opening tee shot went left of the internal out-of-bounds. The approach is played to an elevated two-tier green with plenty of undulations. An opening hole which gives an immediate sense of setting out on a special 18-hole journey.
Par 3, 194 yards (Harry Colt’s): One of the great par 3s. With Dunluce Castle and the white cliffs as a backdrop, the tee shot is played to an elevated green with a false front to punish anything underhit. There are no bunkers but par is a good score here.
Par 4, 447 yards (Himalayas): A narrow tee shot has to be threaded through mounds either side of the fairway and the green sits among sand dunes, repelling anything short.
Par 3, 236 yards (Calamity Corner): The clue is in the name. Again, it’s a par 3 without bunkers but don’t let that fool you. The tee shot is played across a chasm of punishing rough and with short and right not a good option, some may choose to follow the example of Bobby Locke in 1951. He played to bail-out area to the front left and put faith in his short game.
Royal Portrush Golf Club – What Famous Players Say
This is just a wonderful course. It can play so many different ways.
Rory McIlroy: “
There is something about this place which is very special. It holds great memories for me. When you grow up so close to great courses like this you take them for granted. Then you play all over the world and come back and realise just how good it is.
After I’d played it, I really felt it was one of the top courses in the world. I loved the golf course.
It’s a golf course that doesn’t have a bad hole on it.
It’s a beautiful, beautiful course. It’s just a great test of golf.
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Dave Tindall is former golf editor at SkySports.com and Golf365.com and has been writing betting previews for the PGA Tour and European Tour since 1997. He has also written for a range of betting companies, including William Hill and Betfair, as well as being a regular columnist for Rotoworld, The Guardian, Sporting Life and Planet Sport. His other area of speciality is football while he's also covered cricket and tennis.