Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

He came, he saw, but did our man conquer Royal Portrush?

Peter Hutcheon takes aim on the magnificent course at Royal Portrush as the club prepares for the Irish Open
Peter Hutcheon: Royal Portrush score 'not for publication in a family newspaper'

If the Irish Open were to be played at Royal Portrush over the next four days the winning score might be something approaching 24 or 25 under par.

And that's not quite what the Ulster public wants to see on a course regarded proudly as one of the very best in the world.

While we have all enjoyed the recent spell of lovely summer weather, the knock-on effect on a links course such as the Dunluce is to make it firmer, faster and make it play much shorter than the 7,148 yards on the card.

For today's top European Tour professionals capable of drilling the ball 300 yards and more off the tee, that would reduce many of the vaunted holes on Harry Colt's celebrated layout to little more than a flick of a wedge for their approach shots.

All of the par fives on the course are easily reachable in two for them and will yield plenty of birdies and more than a few eagles.

All links courses need the protection of the elements to really bare their teeth and there's every chance that in four weeks time it will indeed be blowing a gale in off the Atlantic in more typically Ulster summer weather style.

Then those same drives will be a different proposition entirely and errant shots will be suitably punished in the rough.

Unlike most of his fellow Ulstermen, Darren Clarke wants to see plenty of rain over the next month to help that rough grow and thicken to present Royal Portrush at its toughest and best for the four days of the Irish Open.

Asked in the build-up to the tournament what his favourite hole was he didn't hesitate before answering: “All of them.”

“The thing about many links courses is that they usually play with one nine into the wind and one nine with it, so there's an easy nine and a difficult nine,” he explained.

“But that's not how it is here. The way the course was designed by Harry Colt was to take advantage of the wind so it's a different proposition on every hole.

“In that way it is tough but also fair and you don't always get the two together.”

As well as staying out of the rough the key to success on any links course is to avoid the horribly deep bunkers which litter the fairways.

Even for top players there can at times be no other option but to play out sideways or even backwards.

Clarke may not favour any one particular hole, but ‘Calamity’, the par three 14th is

sure to be a hit with those spectators lucky enough to secure themselves a vantage point.

At 210 yards it's long enough to give even the pros food for thought over club selection on the tee, especially if the wind is blowing a gale.

The spectacular views of the North Coast is one of the reasons why Royal Portrush is rated quite so highly by locals and visitors alike.

But it is the nature of the course itself which propels it time and time again onto those lists of the world's greatest courses.

And the potential for disaster on every single hole, especially in a strokeplay event, make it the ideal Irish Open venue.

How Hutcheon got on

The pros might be able to make mincemeat of the course on a cloudless benign day, but Royal Portrush is a ferocious proposition for an 18-handicapper like me.

A good half dozen of my golf balls were swallowed up by the rough, and there was one ‘Hamlet' moment in the bunker 50 yards short of the 16th green when after three miserable attempts to extricate the ball, there was simply no choice but to just pick it up.

Still, there was considerable pleasure to be had watching the ball skip down the dried-out fairways on the few occasions when I found the short grass — managing 300 yards down the 15th to leave just a wedge to the green.

My score is not for publication in a family newspaper, but let's just say that next time I would hope to break 100 at the very least!

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