Padraig Harrington knows a thing or two about the Open Championship. The 2007 and 2008 Open Champion, Harrington is synonymous with playing links golf to the very highest standard. Asked back in 2012 about the green complexes on the Dunluce course, he answered, “The greens are reasonably receptive, which is a godsend for us, because we are just not used to the ball moving around inside the green complexes and trying to cut the ball into a right‑to‑left green, and you have to trust that, yes, the wind will move it and things like that. When you are playing in warm weather, the ball doesn’t do anything like it does here. I think having had the rain over the last couple of weeks, it’s going to help us out a little bit that the greens are not too firm. It would certainly‑ it’s not that the golf course wouldn’t play well if the greens were firm or the course was firm.”
The greens are undoubtedly the star here on the Dunluce Links as they are undulating and devilish when firm. Naturally the R&A will have control over them, but a dry build-up would turn this into a hugely technical challenge. Royal Portrush though is also known for its weather. You can experience all 4 seasons in a single day on this stretch of the North Atlantic coastline and this part of the world is well-known for strong winds. As we always say in the build-up to any Open Championship, the weather will be the key to the 148th Open Championship and undoubtedly this is the kind of venue where a player’s chances can be severely impacted if they are the wrong side of the draw weather-wise.
Royal Portrush Golf Club – Dunluce Links, Portrush, Northern Ireland: Designer: Harry Colt, with Martin Ebert 2017; Course Type: Coastal Links; Par: 71; Length: 7,337 yards; Fairways: Fescue, Bentgrass and Meadow Grass; Rough: Fescue, Bentgrass and Meadow Grass; Greens: Bentgrass (50%), Fescue (30%), Annual Meadow grass (20%).
With only 64 bunkers on the course, Royal Portrush has the lowest number of sand traps on the Open rota, however its difficulty is generated by the wind, the creativity of Harry Colt’s masterful greens, and the course’s new found length.
Martin Ebert’s renovation has added almost 200 yards to the challenge and at over 7,300 yards, playing as a Par 71 with only 3 par-5s, if the wind blows hard on Open week this course could be a real challenge. The most famous hole has to be the 230 yard, par-3 16th named Calamity Corner which is one of the most notorious links course holes on the planet.
You can learn more about the course and it’s challenge in this excellent Golfing World video. As ever though, the challenge really will be as difficult as the weather which presents itself across 18th July to 21st July 2019. I get the feeling that if the conditions are soft and the wind is down, this could be a scoreable course where mid-teens is the target required. If the Northern Irish weather is unkind, the Dunluce Links could turn into a real brute,
Below are some revealing comments about the course when it last played at the 2012 Irish Open:
Padraig Harrington: “Yeah, I think the golf course is set up perfectly. It’s different, the way we play as professional golfers, the style of golf is different to what I would have played when I played here 17 years ago. The greens are reasonably receptive, which is a godsend for us, because we are just not used to the ball moving around inside the green complexes and trying to cut the ball into a right‑to‑left green, and you have to trust that, yes, the wind will move it and things like that. When you are playing in warm weather, the ball doesn’t do anything like it does here. I think having had the rain over the last couple of weeks, it’s going to help us out a little bit that the greens are not too firm. It would certainly‑ it’s not that the golf course wouldn’t play well if the greens were firm or the course was firm but it’s further away from what we play in professional golf, so we would be less accustomed to it.
At least now the way the course is set up, like I said, if you miss a shot, especially off the tee, actually around some of the greens, there’s some bushes, things like, that even out‑of‑bounds close to greens and stuff like that, so there are shots you’re going to find trouble, but you definitely can hit good shots out there and I think it would be a question of trying to make as many birdies as you can and accepting a couple of mistakes here and there.”
Graeme McDowell: “ I think 63 off the back tees, not the new tees. Not quite as good as Rory’s 61 in a qualifier for the North of Ireland. But this is a golf course where you can go low. You have a benign day like today, off the old tees, especially, it’s pretty short by modern standards. The course is playing fairly long this week and there’s not a lot of fire in the fairways given the amount of rain we’ve had. The new tee boxes are fairly stout, 7,100, 7,200 yards, there’s some spicy enough rough out there in places if you get off the beaten track. It’s a good test.”
Darren Clarke: “17, off that new back tee, depends where the wind is coming from, obviously, as every hole goes on a links. What is it, 600‑odd yards now? If the wind blows into off the left, it’s a nightmare, because there’s a bunker a bit nearly there on the right‑hand side; and if the wind picks up it’s going to be a really, really tough hole.
Michael Hoey: “ They have put a few tees just far enough back, and it’s soft conditions at the minute, and it’s playing long. So I think just this course is now set up just perfectly and visually it’s great.
Just the run‑offs around the greens, you just have to be pinpoint accurate and then the wind and the guys are talking about how good the grass is for divots, it’s just pure, great links, a lit like St. Andrews. It’s really good. I think some of the par-3s are really difficult, the 6th, and the 14th, obviously Calamity. Just finished there and the wind is in off the left and it’s a really solid 2‑iron or maybe 3‑wood. It’s good, because if it wasn’t windy, some guys would hit like 5‑iron in there. So it’s a proper test at the minute which is really good.
So I think par 3s, and then like 17 is tough. That bunker is really in play off the tee. The wind is in off the left, and I hit a good drive and the wind just leaked it and it plugged in bunker. You could make a 10 if you’re in there. You see quite a few players bailing out left.
So that’s quite a tough hole, and then the finishing hole 18 is tough, and the first, a lot of tough holes.”
Shane Lowry after Round 3: ” Yeah, it was quite similar obviously, but it was really tough out there. When you turn around, 14, 15, 16, 17; 17 we couldn’t get home in two, and 16 was playing driver, 2‑iron. Everything was just so tough. I just didn’t scramble the ball well and didn’t get up‑and‑down when I should have. You know, shooting 4‑over, that’s golf.”
Padraig Harrington after Round 3: “Well, we got a big shot the first couple of holes. The first hole, I hit a nice approach shot and came up 45 yards short of the flag. That’s a long way out to carry on the wind. Second hole, same thing, hit a very nice approach shot in there and to come up 25 yards short, you’re kind of wondering what’s happening. So we didn’t get settled into the round very well early on. I suppose we got going a bit more in the middle, on 7, I hit a tee shot that was virtually unplayable. But there wasn’t much going for me early on, so 72 under the circumstances, I’ve got to be pleased.”
Royal Portrush hosts its second Open Championship, 68 years after its first.