Wednesday 21 August 2019

Royal Portrush mirrors golf's evolution

Back to the future: Martin Ebert
Back to the future: Martin Ebert

Links courses are not set in stone but living things and if there's a lesson to be learned from the return of The Open to Royal Portrush it is that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush has undergone many changes since it was designed by Harry Colt in 1932.

Change is part and parcel of golf and while it has always been resisted at first, controversy of the design of hole and fears over advances in driving distance and technology have been with us for as long as golf has been played.

It's still a stressful task for the designer, dealing with the worries of members and the eyes of the watching world when it comes to an event like The Open.

"With any other project, you know it's only going to be the members' eyes that are on it, but with here, it is going to be the world's best players, the world's media, TV," said Martin Ebert of Mackenzie & Ebert, who created the two new holes and revamped the course.

"There's a difference when you are working on an old course. If there's a quirky green, like the ninth at Royal St George's, you can get away with it. If you put a quirky green on a classic old layout, people just criticise it.

"For example, one of the changes we didn't get through here at Royal Portrush was opening up the stream across the 12th, the old 10th.

"There's a natural stream there that was piped [and covered] at one point. We never found the records, sadly, that it was ever open as a golf hole. If there was a stream in front of that green and it had been there for 150 years, and we'd proposed filling it in, people would have said, 'You're mad, it makes the hole!'

"So propose it now, and it's 'too difficult for the members'. Had it been there, that hole would have been unbelievable so you can understand the conservatism. So working on these great courses, you make a change, and everyone focuses on them."

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