Redesign of Royal Portrush will test the world's best when The Open comes to town
After its return to the Open Championship rota last summer, work is already under way to redesign Royal Portrush for the visit of the world's best golfers and architect Martin Ebert is confident that the altered course is set to provide a fitting challenge.
With venues decided for the next three years, it is expected that what would be the largest sporting event ever held in Northern Ireland will be confirmed for 2019 in the near future, however the work should be completed two years prior to that.
"There's no doubt that it will be a huge test for the world's best," Ebert said.
"It's already proved that throughout the years but these changes from the back tees make it an even stiffer challenge.
"There's no doubt in our minds, and certainly it's the priority of the R&A, that this course is a significantly challenging test to provide the examination paper that the Open Championship gives to the world's best."
The clamour to bring the Open Championship back to Northern Ireland's north coast for the first time since 1951, its last occurrence outside Scotland and England, had been building for years but with the dream now a reality there were many obstacles to overcome in the planning stage including course layout, logistics and the spectator experience.
With this the first major redesign of the famed Dunluce links since the work of the legendary course designer Harry Colt in the 1930s, Ebert affirms that the new layout has been attuned to the skill set of the modern day golfer without detracting from the enjoyment of members.
With tour pros now able to reach greater distances than ever before off the tee, the redesign will be 7,337 yards in length, an addition of almost 200 yards.
"We always focus on the course being set-up appropriately for the best golfers from the back tees but we have to make sure it also still works for the members.
"The course here doesn't have a huge number of bunkers compared to other Open courses, there's been a few more added to tighten up the landing areas but we don't want to take the driver out of people's hands. We just want to make people think if it's the right strategy."
Ebert, whose company currently advises five of the other nine courses on the Open rotation, is especially enthused by the two new holes he feels will be among the most breathtaking in the sport.
"The two new holes will be the most spectacular of the changes," he said.
"Everybody who is a fanatical golfer will want to come and play those two holes.
"Elsewhere, there'll be changes within the course.
"The par five second hole, the green gets moved on, some bunkering is being added to the course, some back tees," Ebert commented.
"One of the two holes which Harry Colt didn't supervise completely when they replaced the two holes, the green of that hole doesn't quite match the character of the course so that will be reshaped as well.
"All in all we have to make sure that it stays as an enjoyable members' course but that it's also fit to test the world's best."
The two new holes were required to appease early R&A concerns regarding the hosting of such high numbers of spectators - often in the region of 130,000 - fears that Ebert feels have been allayed by his plans to include the tented village where the concluding 17th and 18th holes previously stood.
"When the R&A came along and said that if the Open was to come then the tented village really would have to go on the 17th and 18th holes, it was clear that we needed to find two new holes.
"The area of the 17th and 18th is an ideal location for that really.
"We've had a lot of their team over to look at grandstand positions, spectator flow around the golf course, access, where all the marquees and the like will go. Those plans are still to be finalised but they certainly have had to go through the drafts already.
"I think where the R&A are planning for most of the spectators to come in, the Rathmore clubhouse end, they would all filter through that village on the way into the course and the way out.
"The redesign has allowed for that, to have things set up exactly how the R&A would have liked.
"I think in many respects like that the course will be ideal for the championship."
Just what the locals have been saying for years.