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VI: Royal Portrush

As we found our way North to the tip of Northern Ireland, we eventually hit a corner which will be etched in my memory forever. For any golfer who has driven into the town of Portrush, there is not a chance in hell that the magnificent reveal as you hit the top of the hill and round the bend has been erased from your memory.


Without a hint of a warning or a chance to catch our breath, the most breathtaking golf view on the planet was in front of us- holes weaving between heaving dunes and a moonscape of golf as far as the eye can see. Pure magic.


Dunes, sand and sea - The pure linksland of Royal Portrush

Intentional or not, there’s a reason that the first look at the town is dominated by golf- Portrush revolves around the game and Royal Portrush is its glorious centrepiece. Walking through the town it felt as though we couldn’t turn a corner without stumbling upon another golf logo’d quarter zip or a glove hanging out of some bloke’s back pocket- this is one of the things which makes golf in the UK so special, golf courses are so closely connected to their towns and Royal Portrush is the beating heart.


The stunning view over the back of the 5th green

On our first night in town, we made a beeline for the greatest and most horrifically kept secret in town – Harbour Bar. If Royal Portrush is the town’s beating heart then Harbour Bar is the blood which runs through it (most likely black and creamy)- perched innocently on the edge of the water, a hybrid between a shrine to the game of golf and everything that makes Irish pub culture so famous. We went in for a couple of beers at 8pm and somehow found ourselves walking home at 2:30am- the Harbour Bar was a slip’n’slide with a little too much dishwashing liquid, no matter how hard we tried there wasn’t a chance we were getting out!


The view back down the first shows the connection to the town and O.B both sides!

The infamous first tee at Royal Portrush, out of bounds stakes looming on both sides, had been occupying real estate in my head since Rory McIlroy carved one out of bounds and made an 8 on the first hole of the 2019 Open Championship. Driving iron in hand, that tee shot looked an awful lot skinnier than from couch and with only a handful of observers and my adrenaline pumping, I can only imagine what that shot felt like surrounded by thousands. For what it’s worth and against all odds I found the fairway –in hindsight I think Rory would have penned a handsome cheque for that…..


Visually intimidating but reasonably playable

Something which stood out to me early in the round was that Portrush’s ability to challenge the best players in the world yet maintain playability for the average player is exemplary. Don’t get it twisted Portrush is a true championship test, however it doesn’t go looking for ways to assault you like many links courses, you have to stumble your own way into them- its fairways are wider, its rough less penal, and there are certainly less blind elements. Even on a day where we didn’t have our best stuff, Portrush was a joy to play!

Links courses are often limited by their land, however, sprawled across gorgeous sandy linksland Royal Portrush knows no bounds, its towering dunes giving rise to something of a rare commodity in links golf- dramatic changes in elevation. The first two holes brought us to the top of a large hill and we played along the plateau until the stunning short par 4 fifth, a severe downhill dogleg right with it’s green sitting on the edge of a cliff, the ocean as a backdrop looking more Caribbean than UK- one of my favourite holes on the planet. This up and down nature of the routing continues throughout the round, providing long views across the golf course and out to sea- a truly spectacular walk and setting to play the game.


The stunning dogleg fifth asks the risk/reward question early on!

The great thing about choppy and severe land featuring an assortment of random humps, bumps and hollows amongst the elevation changes is the variety of golf shots it spawns. Land this good will always give rise to some of the most interesting and memorable holes in the game and Portrush did not disappoint in this regard, over the first 10 holes the aforementioned 5th tops my list, amongst the newly built 7th hole playing in the shadow of an overbearing dune, the blind dogleg right 10th (aptly named Himalayas). Portrush’s routing uses and navigates the land in such a wide variety of ways, excitement around every mound.

Another typical feature of most links courses is their simple and flatter green complexes, typically a result of their natural sites. Portrush is the rare links which features a set wildly contoured, boldly tilted and most edge of your set compelling greens in the world. These phenomenal greens are an additional layer to the strategy of the golf course and once the contours of the fairway have been navigated, the challenge is far from done, asking for a thoughtful and considered approach every single time.


Portrush's green complexes are compelling and loaded with contour

Despite the sheer quality of the first 14 holes (not a weak one in sight), I will happily join a long list of people to say that the closing stretch from 15-18 will remain with me forever. The variety, strategy, challenge and flat out fun of the last four holes can only be described as other worldly.


The 15th (Skerries) is the only hole which plays up and over a dune to provide a fantastic reveal towards the Skerries Islands in the distance. The 16th hole (Calamity) is a LONG uphill par 3 with quite honestly the deadliest drop off into a canyon I have seen to the right of the green- at the perfect point in the round it demands a big boy golf shot with very little bail out. Contrary to the previous two holes, the downhill driveable 17th over the crest of a hill delivers a risk/reward dilemma and the opportunity for a heroic finish. The routing of Royal Portrush is beautifully paced and the closing stretch asked us every important question.

Calamity: The 16th is a big boy par 3

There’s magic to be found in Portrush, within the town and upon its world-class links, and you truly don’t have to look too hard to find it.

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