Royal Portrush 15th, 'The Skerries'
Harry Colt is the name that links Pine Valley with Royal Portrush. Weaving its way through high dunes the Irish links often described as his ‘masterpiece’.
It used to be said that Royal Portrush featured “seventeen world class holes, and the eighteenth”. This changed ahead of 2019 when the Open Championship returned to the exposed north Antrim Coast. Two stunning new holes were added and the numbering moved up. The new 18th now became the only dog-leg closing hole on the Open’s roster, and the treacherous 14th assumed and even more perilous point in the round at 16
With an internal OOB’s both left and right the opening par 4 is arguably the toughest start on the Open Championship rotation now and requires nothing short of pin-point accuracy from the tee. Imagine how home town hero Rory McIlroy felt in 2019 as he stood on the opening tee with so many hoping he’d complete the fairy tale and bring the claret jug back to Northern Ireland. By the time he walked off the green he’d begun with an eight, and he was by no means the only player to have found the first hole taxing them rather more heavily than they’d have liked
Image David Cannon/ Getty license from Royal Portrush GC
This is arguably the courses signature hole and is a truly stunning risk and reward par 4. ‘White Sands’ is a dog-leg, right but from the forward tee big-hitters can be seduced to biting off the carry and attempting to drive the green. If you fail though, the penalty is usually brutal. There are few bailouts here. Instead you have tangled vegetation and a horrible pitch from below the surface to salvage (assuming you can even find your ball).
The safer route involves negotiating two bunkers on the fairway at 280yds. The infinity green is perched on a cliff top amongst a cleft, and anything that is only slightly over-hit could go out of bounds just two or three yards over the back. Anything badly over-hit is a lost ball as the cliff literally drops away to the beach and waves below
The first of the two new holes is a very strong par five from an elevated tee into the valley with an impressive run of natural high dunes along the right side, separating the course from the beach. There is a big bunker on that flank a replica of the iconic ”Big Nellie”, but this is largely nostalgia for this one time guardian on the old 17th. The bunker on the left figures to be more in play. The second shot is uphill and the landing area narrows as you get nearer a green that has plenty of undulations. Although the high dunes provide some respite this hole normally plays into the prevailing wind.
The second of the new holes taken from a piece of land where golf has never been played. previously it runs back along the ridge of the dune and is consequently more exposed to the wind blowing off the sea. The tee-shot is a slight dog-leg and tempts players to take off as much of the steep dune bank as they dare. It’s a 235 yard carry over a chasm to reach the undulating fairway though and biting off too much ends badly. Players can attack and take a tight line on the left side to get closer to the green, but if you miss then you’re pretty well dead. The majority will play towards the two bunkers on the right side. The second shot, with the cliffs and Dunluce Castle in the background adds a sense of drama as you seek the plateau green nestled in amongst long rough.
With the possible exception of Turnberry’s 9th, there can’t be many more dramatic holes on the Open Championship rotation than the 16th at Royal Portrush. It’s a daunting uphill par 3 that involves carrying a chasm of no return. If you lose it to the right, short, then its game over. Instead players try to hug the ridge to at least give themselves a chance of salvation. Bobby Locke’s hollow is the only respite. Situated on the front left corner of the green, it is where the South African is alleged to have played each day in the 1951 Open. This is a brutally elevated green, with the wind likely to affect putting.
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