As the Open Championship returns to Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, we highlight the key changes that have been made to prepare the Dunluce course for the world’s best golfers.
Royal Portrush hired Open specialists Mackenzie & Ebert to oversee changes to the course in preparation for the 2019 Open, with involvement from the R&A. The work began in 2015 and represented the first major changes to the Harry Colt-designed links since the 1930s.
Colt’s original 1932 design did undergo significant changes shortly after it was first laid out. In 1939, in preparation for the relocation of the clubhouse from the town of Portrush to its current site, the former first and eighteen holes were taken out of play and two new holes (the current tenth and eleventh) were added by the Club’s professional P.G. Stevenson, with Colt’s consultation.
Since then though, Colt’s layout remained largely intact, and Mackenzie & Ebert’s recent work has been done “in the spirit and style of his original design”. The primary changes are:
Elimination of seventeenth and eighteenth holes
The two closing holes have been eliminated and the land will be used to host the spectator village and other infrastructure for the Open.
Martin Ebert said: “If there had been a criticism of the Dunluce course over the years, it was that the old seventeenth and eighteenth holes were slightly weak after such an amazing tour of the dunes over the rest of the sixteen holes. That has been addressed by creating two new holes that continue to improve Colt’s best links.”
The long-term future of the land will be decided after the Open.
Two new holes
Two new holes have been created using land from the club’s Valley course.
The first of the replacement holes is the 592-yard par-five seventh. “It plays down into the valley, over the route of the old sixth hole of the Valley course and rises gently up to a new green, hugging the enormous dunes to its right,” said Ebert. “‘Big Nellie’, a huge bunker on the old seventeenth hole, has been recreated to the right of this new hole. This fits very well into the huge dune bank.”
Following that is the new eighth, a 434-yard par four occupying dramatic ground, with a severe drop to the left side of the fairway. “It has the potential to become one of the most dramatic in championship golf and one of the main feature holes of the Dunluce course,” said Ebert. “From a tee position close to the old fifth tee on the Valley course, the golfer faces a demanding drive played across the chasm of the valley between tee and fairway to a green close to the existing eighth green.”
Tweaks have been made throughout the course, most noticeably on three greens. A new second green has been built behind the old green, the third has been reconstructed and reshaped to improve drainage and add a tough back-left pin position, and the old eighth (now the tenth) has been rebuilt and reshaped to give it more of Colt’s characteristics (this was one of the two holes added by Stevenson in 1939).
New tees and bunkers
Nine holes have new tees and several new bunkers have been introduced, including five on the new holes. On the famous par three ‘Calamity Corner’ for example, now the sixteenth, a new back tee will stretch the hole to almost 240 yards. Overall, the course – from the championship tees – has been lengthened by 201 yards to 7,344 yards.
Read more: A report prepared by Mackenzie & Ebert on the changes to Royal Portrush
Mackenzie & Ebert has also overseen a series of changes to the Valley course to make up for the loss of land for the new holes on the Dunluce course. As a result, a new four-hole closing stretch includes a brand new par-three fifteenth hole, extending the old seventeenth to become a new par-five sixteenth, the restoration of one of the club’s historic holes for the seventeenth, and a short par-four eighteenth with views across the beach, sea and town.
“The two new holes and other adjustments to the Dunluce course will provide a fitting test for the finest players for the 148th Open,” said Ebert. “However, they have also strengthened the character and quality of this renowned links for all golfers. Golf at Portrush should now be an even more enjoyable experience for the members and visitors as well as providing one of the greatest stages for The Open Championship.”