Belfast Telegraph

Portstewart course will go down a storm with world's best says club pro

By Paul Kelly

The spotlight is firmly on Portstewart Golf Club this week.

So often in the shadow of illustrious neighbour Royal Portrush, the Strand course will be centre stage for the DDF Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.

To face up to the challenge presented by some of the world’s finest golfers a number of holes have been tweaked ahead of the tournament.

“The significant changes are on the back nine,” says Portstewart GC’s resident PGA professional Neil Graham (right).

“The left-hand side of the 10th green has been lifted and a dune system has been built around the 10th green and between the 13th green. That has narrowed the approach into both greens.

“The 14th tee has been moved and a dog-leg has been created on that hole.

“A bunker has also been installed at around 280 yards from the tee,” adds Graham.

“On a calm day, from the back tee it probably won’t be much of a problem but if the wind is into or across then it will get the players thinking.

“It demands a fade shot off the tee to avoid that big bunker and the two other bunkers that are on the left-hand side of the fairway.”

Graham is convinced that Portstewart will stand up to the test this week.

Tournament host Rory McIlroy has given the course his seal of approval, describing the opening nine holes as amongst the best in the world.

The world number four made a flying visit last week and played a practice round as he prepares to defend the title that he won last year at The K Club.

“Links golf depends on the weather. If it is relatively calm, with light winds, it will play into their hands and these guys are so good now that you could see 18 under win,” added Graham.

“It will be different if the wind gets up. The rough is thick and tangly simply because of the rain and the heat we’ve had in recent weeks. You can lose a ball very easily.

“In that case, it will be about plotting your way around and not necessarily hitting drives everywhere.

“It will put a premium on hitting the fairway and we’ll see a lot of long irons and hybrids being used.”

It’s obviously been a busy few weeks for Graham as he gears up for tournament week but he has taken the chance to scope out some of the better viewing points on the course.

“It’s been a fantastic experience to be involved ‘on the inside’ over the last couple of months, watching as the infrastructure goes up around the course,” he adds. “I stood on the top of the grandstand at the sixth tee the other day and if I had the time that’s where I would park myself.

“When you are on top of that stand you can see the sixth obviously but you can also see the fifth and the seventh. You can look at the fourth green and you can also see the 12th.

“It is a fantastic viewing point.”

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