Royal Portrush Golf Club – Golf Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This
Royal Portrush Golf Club is rated #8 in the world by Golf Digest. Golf Magazine rates it as only #13. Considering that there are over 34,000 golf courses in the world I don’t think I’m going to quibble with whether Golf or Golf Digest is correct as I and seven of my mates are about to find out by playing it today. But first, some history.
History of Royal Portrush Golf Club
The first golf course here dates back to 1888, but it is the Dunluce course laid out by Harry Colt in 1929 that has garnered Royal Portrush its venerable reputation. Harry Colt is one of the most famous of the early golf course designers, forsaking a career in law to do so. Here is a quote on his philosophy of design from the Golf Designer website;
Colt and his colleagues had only a few simple rules. Firstly, that early holes should not be demanding. Secondly, that using every club in the bag throughout a round is ideal, and that thirdly, the routing of the course should be determined by the land. The number of pars determined for a course fell upon the layout of the land and not any solid rule.
He was also a great believer in using the deep pot bunker to challenge a player’s ability to get out- sadist!
The club received the Royal designation in 1895 when the future Edward VII became a patron. It is the only course outside of mainland UK to host the British Open – in 1951 and again in 2019. Other tournaments including the British Seniors 1995-99 and 2004 where Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson competed. The Irish Open and Amateur many times and the Women’s British Open as early as 1895. It has some well known members including Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, the latter of whom considers this his home course.
Darren Clarke’s Home Course
We get some evidence of that when we pull up to the clubhouse where the parking spot closest to the door is marked Darren Clarke and there happens to be a snazzy BMW parked there.
More evidence of Darren’s relationship with the course is evident in the front window of the pro shop.
At the pro shop I ask if Darren is, in fact, on the course and the answer is “Yes, he just went out a few groups ago”.
Pretty well all the high end clubs in Ireland expect visitors to change from street shoes to golf shoes in the locker rooms that are provided. The dress code is about the same as any private club in North America. The one thing they are strict about and I agree with 100% is no cell phone use on the course or in the clubhouse. They expect players to be there to play golf and not do business on the phone. I wish we could adopt the same rules on more North American courses.
Barry, our indomitable driver, has arranged caddies for us and as usual they are waiting for us and ready to go. I am paired with the senior caddy at Royal Portrush Golf Club, Ben who is a sprightly 77 years old. He has a trolley for my bag and cameras so I’m not going to be responsible for burdening him unnecessarily over the next four hours. Here I am with Ben. That’s our bus in the background and the modern Royal Portrush clubhouse.
As the first group approaches the starter’s hut, which is anything but a hut I have a definite sense of trepidation if not outright intimidation. The starter stands ramrod straight in his suit and tie and I am relieved to receive the scorecard from him and even more relieved when Ben suggests we play the green tees which are ‘only’ 6440 yards.
Playing Royal Portrush Golf Club
Writing this post after having played Royal Portrush Golf Club I am amazed at how few photos I took. The reason is obvious to me – I was simply mesmerized by the whole experience. This was without doubt the best golf course I have ever played, although we have Royal County Down coming up which is rated #1 in the world, so that experience might only last a few days. Not only were the conditions excellent (Ben suggested they had gone out of their way to make sure they were perfect for Darren Clarke), but the entire experience. Ben acted as a true caddy, selecting my clubs, reading the greens and most importantly, calming me down. Here is one photo I did take of the approach to #1 before I became starstruck by the rest of the course. As you can see, it doesn’t get much greener than this and the ball will roll a long way on this type of fairway.
One thing they had at the turn at Royal Portrush was an old stone canteen where you could get sandwiches and, wait for it – beer! There are no cart girls on Irish courses, at least the ones we played and most courses don’t return to the clubhouse after nine so there is next to no imbibing while playing. Picking up a couple of Harp’s for the back nine was a pleasant surprise as was this fellow playing by himself, unless you count his dog. Playing with your dog is not frowned upon in Ireland as it would be in North America.
Remember I mentioned that Harry Colt liked deep pot bunkers? Well, here’s Chuck in one of them and I’m glad to report he got out in the first attempt.
Speaking of bunkers,#17 features what Ben described as the second largest bunker in Ireland, Big Bertha.
David was the only one who got in it, but that made for an opportunity to see the sheer scale of the thing. I’m glad to report that David also extricated himself in one blow. I am sad to report that for the 2019 Open this hole was replaced and so I never got to see how the pros would deal with Big Bertha.
The Royal Portrush Golf Club is quite simply an experience that should not be missed by any golfers planning a trip to Northern Ireland, the cost be damned. It’s worth every pound.
Beannacht from Royal Portrush.
Tomorrow we are going to play the course that Rory McIlroy grew up on – Holywood. Please join us.