Northern Ireland is fortunate to have the two highest-ranked golf links on the Island.
Royal County Down (RCD) typically gets the top ranking. However, Royal Portrush (RP) has already been selected twice to host the prestigious ‘Open Championship’ and the pundits are forecasting a third in 2025, indicating a permanent place on the Open roster.
So what is it that separates these two fine courses in terms of ranking and hosting the oldest and most important Major Championship?
Both courses are on prime linksland. RCD may sneak ahead in terms of location with the nearby Mountains of Mourne and Slieve Donard Mountain as backdrops.
Perhaps the difference at RCD starts from the initial minimalist design. The first nine was laid out by George Baillie a schoolteacher in 1889, Tom Morris then completed the eighteen in 1890.
Harry Vardon made some modifications in 1908 and Harry Colt some minor changes in 1926. The changes Colt made to the fourth and ninth holes has made them two of the most photographed holes in world golf.
Despite their efforts, this natural course remained somewhat eccentric and quirky with blind shots and many unusual holes. The location, excellent terrain and unusual routing could all contribute to its great reputation and ranking.
Royal Portrush Dunluce was designed by Harry Colt in 1926. The club had engaged the leading golf architect of his time at the height of his powers.
He had a first-class area of links land. His method was to apply a developed set of principles to each design. From this you had a Classic design, tough but fair with good shots rewarded and poor ones punished.
Colt had worked on seaside links and inland courses that are now world ranked. He even managed to achieve two courses at Sunningdale well up the world rankings.
The R&A, responsible for selecting Open Championship courses would most likely be looking for a Classic course, tough but fair rather than beautiful and somewhat quirky.
(7344 yards, par 71)
The club was founded in 1888 as ‘The County Club’ and gained its Royal title in 1892 under the patronage of the Duke of York. It changed to its present name under the patronage of the Prince of Wales.
The club is situated on the North Antrim Causeway Coast just outside the town of Portrush, approximately 6 miles north of Coleraine and 63 miles north-west of Belfast City.
The course occupies a triangle of giant sand hills with stunning views to the north, east and west. It is overlooked by the ruins of 13th century Dunluce Castle, from which it takes its name.
The basis of the present course was a redesign in 1947 by the leading golf architect of that time Mr H.S. Colt and it has long been ranked among the world’s greatest courses. It was updated by Martin Erbert in preparation for hosting 148th Open Championship to be played in 2019.
The Dunluce is a classic seaside links routed through rugged links land, constantly changing in direction and elevation.
The greens are scattered among the huge sand dunes providing some of the most awe-inspiring vistas of sea, cliffs and islands to be found in Ireland.
On this course, it is essential to maintain accuracy for the whole round avoiding the penal rough and the other natural hazards that come into play, as well as dealing with the ever constant wind and the weather.
It is a course that will test the most experienced of golfers. The layout of the course is superb, each hole blends effortlessly into its surroundings and it has outstanding green complexes, some tiered and many undulating.
A number of course changes were made in preparation for the 2019 Open. The 17th and 18th holes of the original Dunluce Championship course, were replaced by two new holes (the 7th and 8th) on land that was part of the Valley Links.
Holes 7 to 16 were redesignated as holes 9 to 18 on the redesigned course. The land freed-up by removing the prior 17th and 18th holes was used for the tented village.
There were a number of other changes, including lengthening the 2nd hole by 40 yards and realigning the 10th (the new 12th).
Despite the newly designed Dunluce Links reducing the course from a par 72 to a par 71, the overall length increased by almost 200 yards to 7,344 yards
479 yards, Par 4,, Index 1
A long strong hole with heavy rough on the left and out of bounds on the right.
The undulating fairway has strategically placed bunkers, on the left, the second one is 280 yards from the back tee.
The green is located slightly uphill between two small sandhills with trouble at the front of the green.
It is named after Fred Daley the 1947 Open Champion who was born in Portrush.
382 yards, Par 4
A quite short downhill hole that doglegs right.
There are two bunkers at 280-290 yards that come into play with the tee shot.
It has a heavily undulating stepped green that runs away at the back.
The green is perched on the clifftop with out of bounds just a few yards over the back.
There are views over Dunluce Castle and White Rocks which gives the hole its name.
236 yard, par 3, Index 4
A long famous hole named Calamity Corner plays uphill to the green over a huge ravine that is short and right.
There are mounds and hollows to the back and left of this difficult elevated green where the wind can affect putting.
(6346 yards, par 71)
The Valley course is highly ranked in Northern Ireland and certainly and should be played more by visiting golfers. Although it is shorter than the Dunluce it is just as tough with tight fairways, rolling fairways and splendid links greens.
The courses are considered a 'great pair' and tend to complement each other.
It is also a Harry Colt design that opened in 1931, three years after Colt designed Dunluce and he never put his name to anything but a quality course.
The Valley Course gets its name from being situated between huge sandhills along the Atlantic shore and the higher ground on which the Dunluce course is laid out.
It is set in tumbling terrain where holes have been cut between the huge dunes. The course provides a great test of links golf with undulations, humps and hollows and impressive green complexes.
In order to update the Dunluce course for the 2019 Open Championship, some land was taken from the Valley course which was then redesigned where required by Martin Ebert in 2015.
There have been comments that this has improved the Valley course as well as the Dunluce.
Royal Portrush hosted the 80th Open Championship in 1951.
It was the first time that the championship had been played outside of England or Scotland. The course was then 6802 yards, par 72.
The field was reduced to 98 players as it clashed with a tournament in America and prize money for the winner was £300. Max Faulkner from England won his only major title by two strokes, ahead of the Argentinian Antonio Cerdá with a score of three under par.
He was a flamboyantly dressed player who won with an excellent putting performance on fast greens. The course was tough and the weather was poor but once Faulkner seized the lead he did not relinquish it.
Sixty-eight years later in 2019, it returned.
The gap was influenced by several decades of unrest in the province. The excellent performance of Irish players in recent years since the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ would also have been noted by the R & A.
The course was updated prior to the event and was 7344 yards, par 72.
Shane Lowry from the Republic of Ireland won his first major title by six strokes over Tommy Fleetwood playing excellent golf. Lowry became the second player from the Republic of Ireland to win a major after Pádraig Harrington.
He had a great start with 67 in each of the first two rounds. In the third round with 63 he set a new course record.
On the final day the weather was poor and his excellent round of 72 gave him a comfortable win over Tommy Fleetwood by 6 shots and the winners cheque of $1,935,000.
It has only been held at Royal Portrush four times:
An amazing natural phenomenon.
It comprises around 40,000 mostly hexagonal basalt columns descending gently into the sea.
Depending on who you believe, the stones were formed either by an underwater volcano’s geological actions or by a giant named Finn McCool, who lived and fought along the north Antrim Coast.
Found beside the Titanic Slipways, the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices and Hamilton Graving Dock. This was where the liner Titanic was designed, built and launched in 1912.
The Titanic experience follows the story from her conception in the early 1900s through construction and launch, to her first voyage and place in history.
The self-guided tour covers nine interactive galleries where you discover the stories of the ship and those who built her. RMS Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world at that time.
You can step back in time and learn about the industries and design innovations that led to the creation of the vessel. Special effects, animations and full-scale reconstructions are used to recreate shipbuilding in the early 1900s.
The fitting out of the ship is covered and the launch in 1911. Tribute is paid to the loss of the ship and the 1,500 men, women and children who lost their lives on her tragic maiden voyage.
Then there were inquiries and sensational news reports. You can experience the aftermath, the inquiries and the sensational news reports of the time. The story reaches its climax with the discovery of the wreck.
Carrick a Rede translates into English as 'Rock in the Road' and comes from the Scots Gaelic 'Carraig a Rade'.
The bridge links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede and is a key tourist attractions along the Causeway Coastal Route. The bridge is owned and maintained by the National Trust, it spans 66 ft and is 98 ft above the rocks below. In 2018, the bridge had 485,736 visitors.
It is open year-round subject to weather and visitors can cross it for a fee. It is believed that salmon fishermen have been building bridges to the island for over 350 years.
The island was an obstacle for the migrating Atlantic salmon as they searched for the river in which they were born. Up until the 1960s catches of up to 300 salmon a day was common.
Fishing pressure at sea and river pollution has led to a decline in salmon and in 2002 the last fish was caught at Carrick-a-Rede as the fishing was uneconomic.
Carrickarede island is the best example of a volcanic plug in Northern Ireland where Marine erosion has exposed a section through the neck of this old volcano.
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