THAT JUSTIFIABLY renowned golf course designer, Harry S Colt, reckoned that Royal Portrush on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland was his finest work, better even than Muirfield. It prompted Bernard Darwin to write, that ‘Mr HS Colt…has thereby built himself a monument more enduring than brass.’ And there are now two splendid loops of 18 holes on classic links land to enjoy.
Colt’s classic is the Dunluce course, where the only Open Championship outside England and Scotland was played in 1953. Many argue, given the contribution that Irish golfers have made to the sport, that the famous old course richly deserves to be made an Open venue once more.
From the medal tees, the course measures 6,641 yards although given the strength of the wind that traditionally blows off the land and into the Irish Sea, we might be better advised to play off the society tees that shave off another 200 yards.
We follow the road and head in the direction of the Giant’s Causeway on what appears a relatively innocuous start with a 371 yard par four and a shortish par five before we turn towards the coast and play the first of the four par threes. It is just after here that this beautiful beast first bares its teeth.
The fourth is more a par four and a half at 442 yards where we encounter, and try and avoid a big bunker, rolling dunes and coniferous woods on our right. The game is well and truly afoot now, and we must drive straight and keep the ball in play to have any chance of a score because the back nine veers between tough to downright brutal.
Mere mortals amongst us can only gasp and shake our heads at Rory McIlroy’s course record of 61, comprising 33 going out and 28 coming home, a staggering 11 under par, when aged only 16. We must not drift off into the realms of fantasy but stick to our own game plan for we still have Calamity Corner and Purgatory to negotiate!
Calamity Corner is the 14th, a long par three, and if into the wind most likely a driver for many. On the right is a 100’ drop down a ravine onto the Valley links, the other fine course at Portrush and we must hit our tee shot along the line of the path through the dunes onto a green that slopes sharply down from the top right side. A three here is a hugely satisfying result. Slice and a double bogey or worse is guaranteed.
After Calamity comes Purgatory, a 355 yard par four down a very tight fairway that drops steeply to a tiny, undulating green, and even now the worst may not be over for we still have two long par fours and ‘Big Nellie’ to overcome. ‘Big Nellie’ is a monstrous bunker that guards the right hand side of the par five, 17th fairway. Aim left and keep the ball in play and all will be well, but once in ‘Big Nellie’ it is hellish tricky to get out again.
Having returned to the large, modern clubhouse we can relax over a warming glass, of Bushmills Irish whiskey- the distillery is nearby- before heading off for the comforts of the Bushmills Inn to reflect on our day. Irrespective of how we have played it is hard not to come away from this wonderful golf course without smiling and having huge affection for the place, for it is truly world class.