A hole-by-hole guide to the Irish Open course at Portstewart Golf Club
From your best chance to see an eagle to the new Big Nellie bunker - our guide to the course
Ahead of this week's Dubai Duty Free, Portstewart GC's Tournament Director Michael Moss gives his unique insight into each hole of the Strand Course.
Hole 1 - Tubber Patrick - Par 4 - 427 yards
This is an iconic opening hole, a left-to-right dog-leg par-four played from an elevated tee where the Atlantic Ocean is crashing down below you and the Donegal Hills offer a breathtaking backdrop. It’s just the most wonderful vista. And the hole offers a challenge to match, with the tee-shot hit to the left-hand corner. Correct positioning there offers the perfect approach to a generous target.
Stroke Index: 11
Hole 2 - Devil's Hill - Par 4 - 366 yards
We’re now entering the new holes which were designed by my fourball partner, Des Giffin, way back when we purchased the land known as Thistly Hollow. Again you have an elevated tee from where you can see the beach and the town. It’s a shortish par-four with a premium on the tee-shot. For Irish Open challengers, I can see them hitting something like a four-iron off the tee followed by an eight iron, if conditions are favourable.
Stroke Index: 7
Hole 3 - The Settlement - Par 3 - 218 yards
I’ve always thought of this as a lovely par-three, where six tees offer a richly varied challenge. One bunker guards the right of the green but lovely swales and roll-offs characterise other areas of a challenging target. The putting surface is very quick from front to back. Typical of a good short hole, club selection is critical.
Stroke Index: 13
Hole 4 - Thistly Hollow - Par 5 - 538 yards
Way back when Portstewart was chosen as a qualifying venue for the 1951 Open Championship there was talk about building a hole here. The Royal and Ancient were ready to give their support, but it didn’t happen. To Des Giffin’s design, however, this has become a majestic par-five of 583 yards from a new championship tee. Again, there are wonderful views from Castlerock all the way over to Donegal. The fairway dog-legs towards a fast, right to left sloping green which has a lovely switch-back in the middle.
Stroke Index: 5
Hole 5 - Rifle Range - Par 4 - 461 yards
This is the index one for the members. Known as ‘Rifle Range’, which is precisely what is was used as during World War II and we found quite a few empty cartridges during the construction stage. A mid-iron shot is played between two giant dunes to a tiered green measuring 57 yards from front to back. So, hit the wrong tier and you’re in a three-putt zone straight away. I’ve always thought of it as a challenge absolutely worthy of its status on the card.
Stroke Index: 1
Hole 6 - Five Penny Piece - Par Three - 143 yards
‘Five Penny Piece’ as this par-three is called is of modest length by modern standards. Still, I remember Gary Murphy on his way to winning the 1992 Irish Close, hitting little cut shots with a four or five iron there every day, in the face of strong, prevailing winds coming from Donegal. Two bunkers guard a green which can often present an elusive target, especially in fresh winds.
Stroke Index: 15
Hole 7 - Strawberry Hill - Par 5 - 516 yards
From the sixth green, you move left to this attractive par-five which will be a clear birdie opportunity for the professionals. As with some of the earlier holes, the tee is elevated from where it sweeps around to the right, with dunes to your left. The green here is noted for being firm and fast and the overall challenge is decidedly pleasant: a welcome breather coming towards the end of the outward journey.
Stroke Index: 17
Hole 8 - Portnahapple - Par 4 - 427 yards
We’ve built a new tee on this, the highest point of the course. Its elevation offers the most panoramic views of the round so far. You can see the Riverside, which is the adjoining course, sweeping to the River Bann. The hole is a beautiful, dog-leg par four which Des (Giffin) made a few tweaks to after the ‘Close’ in 1992. The tee-shot down into a hollow has to be controlled for distance before a left turn towards a very tricky green, heavily protected by five bunkers.
Stroke Index: 3
Hole 9 - Larkhill - Par 4 - 361 yards
Having completed the seven holes Des created from 1986 until their official opening in 1990, you’re now back on the old second, for those who remember Portstewart as it once was. Though a fairly short par-four by modern standards, there is a premium on hitting the fairway and avoiding heavy rough on the left. The green here slopes from back to front which means a very slick, tricky putt if you happen to finish above the hole.
Stroke Index: 9
Hole 10 - Fisherman's Walk - Par 4 - 407 yards
This, the old third, is known as ‘Fisherman’s Walk’ and is one of the holes that were changed last winter. While being lengthened, the hole also has a new bunker down the left-hand side. Other modifications to sweeping dunes and marram grasses have greatly enhanced its visual appeal as an appropriate start to the homeward journey.
Stroke Index: 10
Holy 11 - Fernside - Par 4 - 390 yards
‘Fernside’ is certainly appropriately named right now, with all the ferns in bloom. It is a nice par-four but challenging in its own right, with a second shot to an elevated green. I remember when Spain’s Belen Mozo won the British Girls Championship in 2006, she took a six at this hole from a situation that didn’t appear especially daunting.
Stroke Index: 4
Hole 12 - Fisherman's Walk - Par 4 - 407 yards
This is another hole with an elevated position on the course, a par-three reachable with a short to medium iron, depending naturally on the prevailing conditions. Those competitors with a mind to do so, can take in glorious views of the Bann and Castlerock and Donegal. A tight target is guarded by five bunkers, making club selection all the more critical, though Irish Open challengers will see it as a birdie opportunity.
Stroke Index: 18
Hole 13 - Cashlandoo - Par 5 -555 yards
We’ve put 50 yards onto this par-five, bringing it up to 555 yards. It is now guarded by seven bunkers — two cross-bunkers and the remaining five protecting the green — and a productive drive must land on the plateau. These changes in the first of back-to-back par fives, necessitated a general re-shaping around the 14th tee.
Stroke Index: 6
Hole 14 - The Hill - Par 5 - 493 yards
This configuration is an area where players will be attempting to get something from the course prior to a demanding finish. The tee has been moved to the right of the 13th green making it a sweeping dog-leg with an additional 30 yards in length. There are three new bunkers in play off the tee, two on the left and one on the right, which is what we call a Big Nellie bunker. The longer hitters may attempt to carry it. Spectators here may be treated to the odd eagle.
Stroke Index: 12
Hole 15 - Articlave - Par 3 - 168 yards
The last par-three on the course is well guarded by bunkers and run-offs. In favourable conditions it’s an eight iron for the professionals. The atmosphere round this hole will be heightened by the presence of a big stand behind the green and so the mood here should perfectly capture the excitement of the day.
Stroke Index: 14
Hole 16 - The Plateau - Par 4 - 418 yards
We have reached the challenging finishing stretch of par-fours, reasonably long and worthy of their position on the course. The drive here must he hit onto a plateau from where you’ve got to be very careful with your second shot. The terrain falls mainly from right to left, creating a lot of run-offs into marram grass.
Stroke Index: 6
Hole 17 - Agherton - Par 4 - 436 yards
Here we’re heading away from the clubhouse for the final time, running parallel with the 16th but in the opposite direction. It’s a situation where many a weary, embattled member has succumbed to temptation and headed for the comfort of the clubhouse. It’s a strong par-four played to a plateau green.
Stroke Index: 2
Hole 18 - Strand Head - Par 4 - 461 yards
Behind this green, there will be an 1,200-seater stand from where you’ll see the 16th green, the 17th tee and the 18th green. So it’s going to be a great amphitheatre for the climax. During the 2014 British Amateur, this was the toughest hole on course. With the wind into the players, they were hitting a one-iron or fairway wood for their second shots. With 11 bunkers, this is the most trapped hole on the course. And it also has the fastest of all the greens, running from front to back. The atmosphere around the green will make this a marvellous finishing hole.
Stroke Index: 8
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