Exclusive hole-by-hole guide to Royal Portrush, 2019 Open Championship course
Head professional Gary McNeill knows every inch of Royal Portrush.
Here’s his exclusive, hole-by-hole guide to the Dunluce Links, where the addition of two new holes by architects Mackenzie & Ebert has made Harry Colt’s great masterpiece an even better test for the 148th Open Championship.
1 - Hughies 421 yards. Par 4
With out of bounds and juicy rough on either side after a warm winter and spring, you will do well to find your ball if you stray into the rough here. There are two bunkers to avoid right and left off the tee, and the second is uphill to an elevated, two-tiered green, which is a feature of the golf course. It’s a good opening hole where they will hit an iron short of the second bunker at 290 yards and then a seven or eight iron from there. If you are on the top level, putting back towards a front pin, it’s possible to putt off the green and down the slope.
2 - Giant’s Grave 574 yds, Par 5
This is an early birdie opportunity. Yes, you have to avoid the three bunkers on the right, but it is quite a narrow tee shot, and the driver can go too far here and end up in a lot of rough. Depending on the wind, you might see players opt for two three-woods rather than a driver and a four-iron. The premium is on getting the ball in play and avoiding that left rough, which is really bad. If it were later in the round, there might be more birdies, but players may be a little more cautious early on.
3 - Islay 177 yds, Par 3
This is a relatively straightforward hole. The problems only begin if you miss the green. It is a generous enough target, but if it gets windy, it’s quite exposed. Go over the back or miss it left, and you will have problems. But I’d expect most players to deal well with this lovely par-three.
4 - Fred Daly’s 482 yds, Par 4
With the out of bounds boundary down the right of the hole and fairway bunkers on the left, it’s a challenge from the tee. It’s over 280 yards to carry that second bunker, leaving a good second shot to a green nestled in the sandhills. If you carry the hump on the fairway, you can get another 30 yards out of your drive. But if you’re short of it, it can be a long second, and if the pin is cut on the left, it may be partially obscured. A really strong par four.
5 - White Rocks 374 yds, Par 4
They have made no secret of the fact that they are going to make this a risk and reward, driveable par-four. The green teeters on the edge of the cliffs, and it’s a hole that will create some entertainment with players having a go. But get it wrong, and you can run up a big score with out of bounds just a couple of yards over the back of the green. Some may opt to hit an iron out and a longer second, but there are two bunkers in play around 280 yards from the tee, so you have to be careful.
6 - Harry Colt’s 194 yds, Par 3
This is a big green, but if you miss it, you can be in trouble. The problem is that the green sits at a 45-degree angle, and it’s easy to go through the green on the left and leave yourself in delicate chip back to a green that slopes away from you. A bit like the third, the problems begin if you miss the green and with the wind swirling around there at the beachhead, choosing the correct club can be tricky.
7 - Curran Point 592 yds, Par 5
The first of the new holes, they will look at this as another birdie opportunity, even if it does measure just under 600 yards. There’s a massive bunker on the right-hand side which replicates ‘Big Nellie’ on the old 17th. That needs to be avoided, as does the little bunker 320 yards down the left. If you can get past that one, the green is in range for the longer hitters, but it’s a narrow approach to a challenging, undulating green, and there are several bunkers to be avoided.
8 - Dunluce 434 yds, Par 4
The second of the new holes, this a slight dog-leg left with a tee-shot played out over a ravine and a steep dune bank. Players may be tempted to cut off as much as they can to leave the shortest and simplest shot into the green. It’s only 240 yards to carry the chasm so against the breeze that can ask questions. It’s another plateau green that falls away sharply on the left and at the back.
9 - PG Stevenson’s 432 yds, Par 4
A right to left dog-leg with two bunkers to avoid. Depending on the wind, players might go with three-wood to avoid the new, second bunker at 300 yards. The second shot is played uphill over two cross-bunkers, and again, the green sits at an angle. There are no greenside bunkers, but there’s a run-off on the right that might get quite busy with a right pin and another shallow swale to the left, which is challenging to putt from. This was the hardest hole for the Irish Open in 2012, and it may play against the breeze in a southerly wind.
10 - Himalayas, 447 yds, par 4
We have added a good 70 yards to this hole over the last couple of years. No bunkers, but this tee shot needs to be up the left side and has to go 290 yards to get a look at the green. It is a long, undulating, re-contoured green and the back section is particularly narrow with mounds left and right. The right side of this hole is to be avoided at all costs.
11 - Tavern 474 yds, Par 4
Talking of tough driving holes, there is trouble left and right and a lot of thick rough on both sides here. It’s a par-five for the members but a par-four for The Open, and if you can carry the corner at 265 yards, you are left with a very narrow shot through the mounds either side of the fairway to a green that’s perched amongst the sandhills and features a severe false front.
12 - Dhu Varren 532 yds, Par 5
A new tee has added 50 yards to this hole, which is the only par-five on the second nine. It’s an obvious birdie opportunity if you thread your tee shot between the bunkers on the right and the rough on the left. Again, the green is elevated, and it falls away to the right, which means the little stream in the gully will be in play. The challenging flag is on the right, and it’s quite easy to make a mess of this one.
13 - Feather Bed 194 yds, Par 3
Played from an elevated tee, the wind can be a factor here with five bunkers around the green. But I expect the R&A to mix it up here and play from one of the front tees to a front flag on one of the days to make it a 130 to 140-yard shot with the hole cut in a newly altered front left portion. That could challenge them a wee bit with the green running from front to back. There are lots of stands here too, so it will be an excellent viewing point.
14 - Causeway 473 yds, Par 4
A new tee has added almost 60 yards to this fantastic par four, and a new bunker on the left-hand side at around 320 yards is to be avoided at all costs. The big challenge after that is the table-top green which falls away on all sides, particularly towards a big, horrible bunker on the left. It’s an awesome green and the start of what should be a fantastic finishing stretch.
15 - Skerries 426 yds, Par 4
An uphill tee-shot over the sandhill to a generous fairway with only one fairway bunker to the right. But it’s another small target for your second shot. There’s one bunker left, but if they put the flag on that right side, there’s a false section of green that can sweep the ball into a swale. So while it will be a three wood off the tee for position, they will be going in with anything from an eight-iron to a pitching wedge, and if they attack the pin and get it wrong, it could be trouble.
16 - Calamity Corner 236 yds, Par 3
This is a very intimidating hole from the back tee with a chasm to play over and the right-hand side to be avoided at all costs. Bobby Locke’s Hollow awaits on the left, and as it plays uphill, it could be a two, three-iron, a hybrid or even a fairway wood for some players. Most players will aim for the left edge of the grandstand behind the green, and they will be relieved to make par here. If the wind comes from the south, it will play quite long, so it promises to be pivotal.
17 - Purgatory 408 yds, Par 4
There is no reason for guys not to have a crack at the green on this one, which plays steeply downhill. They have the option of playing to the top of the slope, but even though there is a new bunker at the bottom of the hill on the left, I expect most of them to have a rip. There could be an eagle here and with a two-shot or even a three-shot swing possible, it could play a big part in deciding the Championship. It will be a fun hole for the fans too, trying to guess whose ball is trundling over the hill.
18 - Babington’s 474 yds, Par 4
This hole will look amazing with all the corporate hospitality on the left and the big grandstand wrapped around the green. It’s a tough hole too, driving downhill towards the out of bounds on the left. You really do need to be left here to give yourself a good view up the little valley towards the green. The entrance to the green is narrow so anything left of centre will be swept into a swale left. A 300-yard drive will leave a six or a seven-iron for most players.