Opened in 1888, the world-renowned Royal Portrush Golf Club, host venue to the much anticipated 2012 Irish Open, is widely regarded as one of the best links layouts, and indeed one of the finest golf courses on the planet.
Sited on a particularly beautiful stretch of the North Antrim Causeway Coast, Portrush is constructed on an area of natural dune land with limestone cliffs on its eastern side, occupying a triangle of giant sand hills with views of the hills of Donegal to the west with the Isle of Islay and the Southern Hebrides to the north.
Portrush has two links courses, the Dunluce Links (the Irish Open Course) and the Valley Course. The course is overlooked by the ruins of the 13th-century Dunluce Castle, which gives its name to the Dunluce course.
Harry Colt designed the Dunluce Course in 1929 and since then has staged the Irish Open three times – in 1930, 1937 and 1947 – The Open Championship in 1951, and the Senior Open Championship from 1995 to 1999 and once again in 2004.
There have been championship tees built over the last few years to bring the Dunluce’s length up to modern professional standards, with changes being made to the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, eighth, 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes.
Open Champion Darren Clarke, who lives in the hills overlooking Portrush Golf Club, says the course is in superb condition ahead of the championship.
“The course is looking fantastic,” he said. “The European Tour agronomy team have done an incredible job to produce the golf course that they have. We had a tough couple of months there early in the year where there was very little rain and it was dry, it was cold, so there was no rough.
“But the head green keeper here, Joe Findlay and Eddie and The European Tour, they have done an unbelievable job. And indeed the members of the course at Royal Portrush have put up with a lot to try and get the golf course up to the level that it’s at right now, which is outstanding.”
And another local man, born just minutes from the Dunluce Links, is 2010 US Open Champion Graeme McDowell, and the 32 year old is thrilled that the Irish Open has returned to Northern Ireland, and to Portrush, a course he probably knows better than anyone in the field.
McDowell said: “There are so many holes on this golf course that are so strong it’s tough to pick out just a few. The three that come to mind have to be the opening hole here at Royal Portrush; into the prevailing breeze it can really get your attention early doors.
“Then you’ve got pick out 14, ‘Calamity’, the par three, 220 yards to the middle of the green and depending on the wind out of the left it can be a lot of fun there. Then I’d have to say the closing hole, 18, it’s a great par four to finish on.”
What is certain is that with wind and rain forecast, Portrush’s Dunluce Links will provide a true test of golf to the star-packed field, across a true diamond of a links layout.