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Irish Open: Portstewart shining bright under the world's spotlight

By Adam McKendry

Walking down the fifth hole at Portstewart is a delight. Running alongside the edge of the River Bann, the fairway flows through natural dips and rises before flattening out to a wide landing area at around 300 yards, flanked by thick rough.

But the true beauty of the fifth is both the green and the approach to it.

Two towering sand dunes, both natural, form an imposing gateway to a narrow three-tiered green, slightly above the golfer, which is contoured in the most challenging of ways.

Woe betide the golfer that finds himself on the wrong tier - he'll do incredibly well to get down in two.

But this is links golf at its absolute best, natural slopes and hazards created by the land, not by man, and the golfers love it.

"Beautiful," Jon Rahm grins as we stride to the fifth green. "It's just beautiful."

He's not far wrong - golfers from across the world flock to Portstewart in their droves for the picturesque front nine to see holes like the fifth, or another that is a favourite of Rahm's: the first.

With its stunning elevation drop from tee to fairway, coupled with a beautiful view over the Strand and all the way to Mussenden Temple to your right, there are few that can rival it across the world, let alone in Northern Ireland.

"It's one of the best first shots I've ever hit," Rahm continues as we make our way up the fifth. "I love this place."

Unsurprisingly, after winning here in 2012, former Ryder Cup star Jamie Donaldson is a big fan of the links too.

"It's just incredibly scenery," he says. "The golf course is awesome, it suits my eye. You're hitting in dunes with flashes of the ocean on every hole. It's a beautiful place."

Maybe they're only saying that because they're playing well - Spaniard Rahm shot an opening round of 65 with Donaldson a shot back at 66 - but they make a good point.

This week Portstewart gets put on the map, and it's not disappointing. It's getting rave reviews from the pros. Fans like it because it's easy to get around. Officials like it because it can accommodate over 30,000 fans if necessary.

In front of the Sky and RTE cameras, with highlights also on the BBC and across the US, this was a big advert for the club and it is excelling.

Off the course there have been no hiccups. Everything has run smoothly, preparations have been followed through meticulously and there have been no complaints.

On the course it's been exactly the same. The players couldn't speak any more highly of both the beauty and the set-up of the holes, and the 60 greenkeepers have the Strand course in pristine condition.

So far it has the makings of being yet another top quality Irish Open held north of the border. Royal Portrush set the standard, Royal County Down matched it and Portstewart is more than well on its way to matching it again.

Ironically, the fifth hole is nicknamed the 'Rifle Range' as they used to train soldiers on it in live fire situations.

This week there are no shots being fired at it. Portstewart is on display, and it's excelling.

Belfast Telegraph

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