By the time Harry Colt arrived on the north coast of Ireland in 1923 to work on Royal Portrush, the course had already been through several development phases since being founded in 1888 including relocation from its original site much closer to the town. Some updates to the original Colt canvas have occurred in the intervening years, but none as significant as those rendered to the course by Tom Mackenzie and Martin Ebert in 2016. By this time, the announcement had been made that Royal Portrush would be returning to the Open Championship rota in 2019. The demands of hosting this modern-day tournament were such that two additional new holes needed to be created at the far end of the property to replace the original seventeen and eighteen, arguably the two weakest holes on the course; that footprint required for hospitality, a food village and associated tournament infrastructure. Mackenzie & Ebert not only sculptured two stunning holes, but they touched every other hole except for the Par three’s and added three new bunkers, bringing the total from 59 to 62, the lowest of any Open rota course, Turnberry being next with 81. Several new tees have been added around the course, but the overall length of the course has only been increased by 200 yards from 7,143 to 7,337 to fulfill the demands of modern Championship play.
Royal Portrush golf club is a superbly structured layout, where no two holes are alike and where it is virtually impossible to find a flat lie. This is magical rolling duneland that can intimidate, delight and terrify in equal measure, often in the same shot. The opening hole typifies Harry Colt’s Portrush. This demanding Par 4 with an internal out of bounds line both to the left and the right creates a tunnel-like target that has been tightened further through the addition of a fairway bunker. The uphill approach, (there is a rise of almost 20 feet from tee to green), is played to a rollercoaster of a green with a devilish false front protected by two bunkers on the left that lie in wait for any shot not measured to perfection. Mackenzie & Ebert have added a further pot bunker to the right of the green, which was the safe approach, to add an additional degree of difficulty. Things do not get much easier on the 2nd hole, a long Par five of what is now 577yards from the championship tees having had over forty yards added in the redesign that involved pushing the green complex back into the dunes. At every turn, Mackenzie & Ebert have given reverence and consideration to Colt’s original masterpiece, and it has to be said, have enhanced it greatly.
The only holes on the golf course that have remained entirely untouched have been the Par three’s, which gives you a good sense of precisely how strong they were, to begin with. The 3rd is a very tough putting surface to hold in any conditions and the fact that there are no bunkers at all on the 6th gives you an indication of its difficulty. The downhill 13th demands a lot of respect from players as it is surrounded by bunkers but is often played in a variety of wind conditions and can be very deceptive. However, arguably the toughest of all is the aptly named ‘Calamity Corner.’ A new back tee will bring this hole to 230yards, played across a chasm of rough terrain to an unprotected green. The famous ‘Bobby Locke’s Hollow’ to the left of the green is used by many as their target line and relatively haven off the tee, but it is a hole where disaster can strike if the wind gets up.
Royal Portrush is one of the most picturesque courses on the planet with views encompassing the Donegal hills, the Outer Isles of Scotland as well as the ‘White Rocks’ of the Causeway Coast, the ‘Skerries’ and the stunning Dunluce Castle. The return of the Open in 2019, last seen on that coast in 1951, will cement these links as one of the best in the world.