Situated halfway between the towns Portrush and Castlerock on the Causeway Coast, the reputation of Portstewart (Strand Course) grows year after year, and was given a substantial boost by hosting the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on the European Tour roster in 2017. The first nine holes at Portstewart are unequivocally as good as you will play anywhere in the world; rollercoaster fairways meander through towering dunes that lead to challenging greens. The golf course is seemingly devoid of a flat surface.
Redesigned in the 1920’s by Willie Park Jnr, it remained that way until the early 1980’s when the club acquired land known as the ‘Thirsty Hollow’. A local schoolteacher is credited with the rework at that time and the course opened in 1992 as a hybrid of both. There are in fact three courses at Portstewart Golf Club, The Championship Strand, The Old Course and the Riverside Course.
The opening hole, declared by many as the best opening tee shot in golf, typifies what lies ahead at Portstewart Golf Club. A dogleg right par four, your drive is played from an elevated tee box to a fairway some 60 yards below your feet. Accompanied by a stunning vista, with out of bounds on the right and a second shot into a well-protected green, this is not a hole for those with a nervous disposition. If survived, the tee shot on the 2nd hole is arguably more challenging. Played between a V-shape in two opposing dunes, to a slither of a fairway, a short iron is required to find the blind uphill pin framed by the dunes behind. Accuracy from the tee is a feature of all eighteen holes at Portstewart Golf Club, typified by the dog-leg 8th hole which requires pinpoint accuracy off the tee to find the best position for one’s approach. Too short and you are blocked out by the dunes, too long and the marram grass awaits. The second shot is then played through the valley to a green that leans into your shot, with two nasty pot bunkers positioned at the front and a sharp run-off to the rear. A fabulous hole where you would happily walk off with par all day long!
The back nine at Portstewart, although not as dramatic a landscape as the front, and for that reason it gets a lot less attention, is certainly no less challenging. It presents a great mix of holes including two extremely challenging par three’s that can wreck any scorecard. Of the two, the 15th is typically played with a left to right cross wind to a putting surface that is protected by five pot bunkers, so no less than perfect accuracy is required.