Driving along the Giants Causeway Coastal Route your eyes are accosted by some spectacularly impressive sights. ¬†It‚??s an area rich with eye candy (not of the adolescent schoolboy type, although maybe that too?). ¬†First there‚??s Dunluce Castle which though only a skeleton of its former self nonetheless casts a bold silhouette on the cliff tops. ¬†Then, just a couple of bends later, a panorama of supersized dunes assaults you. ¬†Massive creatures that they are. ¬†You wonder, ‚??surely we‚??re not going to be chasing a wee white thing between those mountains of sand are we?‚?Ě ¬†Of course, you are.
Royal Portrush would be one of the more famous tests of golf on God‚??s Good Earth ‚?? certainly on The Emerald Isle. ¬†[N.B. In Ireland, if something ‚??would be X‚?Ě, anywhere else in the English speaking world it ‚??is X‚?Ě]. ¬†It would lie along a spectacular stretch of Nor‚??n Irish coastline near Causeways Built For Giants, famous distilleries known as Bushy Mills, and little fishing towns. ¬†And it would be the home of the current US Open Champion (although McDowell belongs to the more ‚??local‚?Ě Rathmore Club, not Royal Portrush itself). ¬†A sign on the town boundary reminds you that you‚??re entering the, ‚??Home of US Open Champion Graeme MacDowell‚?Ě. ¬†GMac must‚??ve been tickled pink.
On this happy occasion we were supposed to be joined by a friend of my grandfather‚??s, one William Harbison. ¬†Willie however was otherwise engaged, so once again it was Just The Two Of Us (can you hear the Austin Powers II soundtrack spinning?). ¬†As we approached the 1st tee a battalion of caddies was leaning shivering against the shed. ¬†Ranging in age from about 20 to 70 this was a caddy corp. to behold; the sort you might see featured in a black & white photographic calendar that would no doubt sell thousands of copies in the pre-Christmas rush (thanks to the sons and daughters of golf playing fathers who are notoriously hard to buy for). ¬†Wind blown faces that have seen many a ball soar into oblivion. ¬†Canny ears that have heard many a curse word muttered in disdain. ¬†You could see the experience emanating from their bones, each wrinkle telling a story.
I felt terrible that we weren‚??t going to be commissioning a couple of the boys ‚?? they looked as bored as they did cold ‚?? but our modest budget doesn‚??t allow for such luxuries. ¬†No, we would just have to guide ourselves around this minefield. ¬†With caution. ¬†The mantra of late has been: Royal County Down you will find perilously difficult, almost to the point of being unenjoyable (I‚??d beg to differ); Royal Portrush on the other hand you will find to be tough but far more pleasant, more a delight than a struggle. ¬†I‚??m always suspicious of such assertions. ¬†As I am of many things, like magpies or people whose eyes are very close together.
The first, and one of the most fearsome, sights you see at RP is the bunker just short of the elevated 1st green. ¬†The World‚??s Most Tyrannical Opening Hole Bunker ‚?? as I have creatively dubbed the hellhole ‚?? is long and deep and wouldn‚??t suffer the indignity of many sand saves. ¬†You could build a modest bungalow inside it that wouldn‚??t be visible from the tee. ¬†What‚??s more, the false front at the green‚??s entrance sucks back helpless pills that with an extra slice of toast for breakfast would‚??ve been propelled within birdie range. ¬†It‚??s as if the course is making a stern statement to you, The Golfer, from the outset: Don‚??t get too cute champ and don‚??t, for goodness sake, have any delusions of adequacy; I will crush them mercilessly into Delusion Dust. ¬†Suffice to say I took an extra club and avoided any confrontation with TWMTOHB (acronym for new title cited above) which would, no doubt, have ended in tears for the golfer not the bunker.
If ever there was a day to bring the beast to its knees, today was it. ¬†By that I mean it was a quite gorgeous day on the links, with only a breath of wind intent on troubling us. ¬†Then again, I suspect there is no such thing as a day to bring RP down ‚?? unless you‚??re a 15-year-old Rory McIlroy, that is. ¬†He shot 61 at an age when I was grappling with the much more vexing problem of determining just what it is that makes the other sex tick. ¬†(I‚??m still working on this, by the way). ¬†He‚??s some boy isn‚??t he? ¬†As you can imagine he‚??s much talked about in this part of the world, and well he should be. ¬†
On the 3rd the dune country starts to open up beneath you. ¬†It‚??s hard to concentrate on hitting a high, soft landing 9 iron to a small undulating green when there are views like these. ¬†And when the wind‚??s coming off the left and you have a tendency to hit, shall we say, a soft draw. ¬†But we do what we can. ¬†On the charismatic par 4 4th it‚??s a question of survival, really. ¬†Bunkers again are the primary threat. ¬†T‚??ree of the buggers peer back at you from the middle-left of the fairway, encouraging you to play down the right (which, of course, is lined with white stakes). ¬†Even if you do manage by some miracle to find yourself on the short grass, your approach must be played through a narrow gateway to a green surrounded by walls of sand, tussock and gorse.
It really is rollercoaster stuff. ¬†Where the 4th dares you to, ‚??Come And Have A Go If You Think You‚??re Hard Enough,‚?Ě the 5th by contrast sits there looking innocuous enough, like a Venus Fly Trap, and will ankle tap you if you get too cocky. ¬†Magnificent 180 degree views of the coastline could distract the less than fully focused golfer. ¬†A white painted stone has been placed atop a dune guarding the left hand side of the fairway; I suppose it marks the line over which you‚??re supposed to bash your ball. ¬†That line looked much too far left, so we decided to take dead aim at the green instead. ¬†The McDowell Line. ¬†Alas ‚?? as you will see in the photo below ‚?? there is a huge mound that‚??s positioned itself very inconveniently in the middle of the fairway. ¬†Not for decoration, but to deflect golf balls in directions their owners did not intend them to travel. ¬†My well struck tee shot that Was heading for the front left corner of the green stopped almost dead in its tracks, having hit the upslope ‚?? leaving an unpalatable 50 yard pitch up the tiered green, immediately behind which lies Out of Bounds pegs. ¬†Not for the faint hearted.
After putting out one can do nothing but admire the picture that lies beneath. ¬†Golden beaches stretch for miles down the coast, interrupted only by Giants Causeways and the like. ¬†There‚??s a distinctly Irish feel about the place.¬†
At this point you‚??re as far from the clubhouse ‚?? and as close to the beach ‚?? as you get. ¬†You‚??re as well stealing an extra moment or two of the view, because gorse and thick tussock will occupy the front of your cranium more or less until you‚??re back at the car. ¬†Or the bar, as the case may be. ¬†My advice, then: hit it where you can see it. ¬†On the 8th it‚??s not clear at all which way the fairway deviates once you pass the crest of the hill (though if we‚??d used our modest brains we could‚??ve worked out where the 9th tee was ‚?? we‚??d walked past it en route to the 7th ‚?? and, by extension, the 8th green). ¬†Driver wasn‚??t a very prudent play. ¬†Brains neglected on two counts then. ¬†Shame, because it‚??s a smashing little short par 4 that if played properly could be a good bit of fun. ¬†The green is 3 times deeper than it looks; the caddy would earn his money on this one.
Two very short par 5s follow, the first being more treacherous than the second. ¬†A little half way house ‚?? not something you see much of on traditional Celtic links‚?? ‚?? is set into the gorse between the two. ¬†As you can see it‚??s distinctly Irish in appearance (not only does it have an emerald trim, but there‚??s an Orange gas bottle tucked not inconspicuously off to the side). ¬†
The lovely thing about Portrush is that the course dances to a changing tune ‚?? it‚??s not all one note. ¬†A straightforward enough looking par 4 (like the S.I. 2 12th) might have vicious greenside contours, or one particularly gnarly bunker. ¬†Then a hole like the par 3 14th ‚??Calamity‚?Ě might come along and knock your socks off. ¬†(It‚??s 200+ yards uphill over a gaping ravine). ¬†I loved the 13th, a short par 4 that on the card looks tame enough; but stopping your approach with something even as lofted as a lob wedge is no mean feat. ¬†
We‚??d been posting live updates on Facebook as we played. ¬†One chap had been kind enough to warn us about the Big Nellie Bunker on 17. ¬†Here‚??s why:
You could cram every inhabitant of Portrush into it and they‚??d still have room to swing a club.
It‚??s not just The Dunluce Course at Portrush that looks swell either. ¬†From the 14th tee you get a clear view of one of the other tracks down below ‚?? which looks equally mouth watering if not a little less tormenting. ¬†I don‚??t doubt you‚??d get families coming for their summer hols here, playing a ton of golf on that course below and the odd (treat) game on The Dunluce. ¬†If I was a wee nipper I‚??d be at me da‚?? all week for a game on the big course; no doubt many a son has had the promise of a game cruelly-but-justifiably withdrawn on grounds of misbehaviour (fighting with brothers and sisters, etc). ¬†Had we come on holidays here before emigrating, I‚??m quite certain I would‚??ve been one such ‚??son‚?Ě, given the amount of mischief me and my siblings managed to find. ¬†But there you are.
Portrush. ¬†A wonderful place; a varied and challenging golf course; heavenly views; and a healthy sea breeze to blow the cobwebs away. ¬†It‚??s easy to see why people travel from far and wide to come here. ¬†And why Rory McIlroy makes as much money as he does...
JP ¬†¬†¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†
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