Royal Portrush, Once Deemed Too Small, Gets Another Chance at the British Open

Posted by on July 16, 2019  /   Posted in golf reviews

In 1951, the British Open was first played outside of Scotland and England, crossing the Irish Sea for the cliffs of the Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland.

Max Faulkner of England won that year, an order execution that loosened the stranglehold Bobby Locke of South Africa on the Claret Jug. Historians place the crowd at 7,000 a day, and there was great hope that Royal Portrush would get another Open.

A decade later, Royal Portrush was still waiting.

The civil war in Northern Ireland in the 1960s helped keep the Open Road. And later, Royal Portrush was considered by the organizers to be too small to handle the infrastructure of a modern Open.

"If you had asked me 10, 15 years ago, we would ever have the Open Championship," Darren Clarke, who won the British Open in 2011, said a month ago: "I would have looked at you as if you had been in the pub for too long. "

This week, after nearly 70 years of years, Royal Portrush completes a return to the Open Spotlight and presents itself to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with the striking landscape that makes it one of the world's top dozen golf courses.

Even with such a star power as the world number 1 Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods and the defending champion Francesco Molinari, Royal Portrush can generate the biggest buzz.

"I am sure it will be a great atmosphere," Molinari said. "It was impressive to see how quickly all tickets were sold initially."

With a maximum of ticket sales, dictated by the smaller size of Royal Portrush, all 190,000 were sold within seven weeks. A new block of tickets is sold out in days and there are no tickets available.

"The whole city is exciting, the whole atmosphere," says Clarke, who grew up about an hour from the course. . "It will be an incredible week."

It is a sentiment shared by the two greatest champions of golf produced by Northern Ireland: McIlroy and the Portrush-native Graeme McDowell.

"I haven" I've tried to hide the fact that I'm basically playing a big championship at home, "said McIlroy, holding the Royal Portrush track record after shooting 61 as a 16-year-old." I didn't know if I would ever get the chance to do that. "

[Read more on how McIlroy made a name for himself at Royal Portrush.]

Royal Portrush doesn't have to wait that long for another Open, with a commitment from the R & A-organizers to open two more Opens there by 2040.

The club is on the north coast of Northern Ireland, a land of heaving terrain and steep rocks overlooking white sandy beaches.

the east are the ruins of Dunluce Castle, dating from the 13th century, which was used as the Greyjoy castle in "Game of Thrones."

The club dates from 1888 and offers a new pastime to visitors in the resort city, and got its royal name four years later.Mom Morris, one The four-fold British Open winner, commonly known as Old Tom Morris to distinguish him from his son, designed the original layout.

The Irish Amateur Open played its first edition at Royal Portrush in 1892, and the first professional event on Irish soil came three years later.

In 1929, the English golf course architect Harry Colt revised Royal Portrush, bringing the new Dunluce Links closer to the sea. When Britain came out of World War II, Royal Portrush was asked to organize the Open in 1951.

Faulkner built a six-stroke lead through three rounds of that tournament, aided by a daring piece at number 16 in the third round. With a quirky ride where he held his ball against a few steps over a barbed wire fence, he hit a 4-log that eventually took a hard turn to the right and set out on the green to save par.

"That's the best shot I've ever seen," said Frank Stranahan, his playing partner, afterwards.

Faulkner went home to win by two over Antonio Cerdá from Argentina.

Among the beaten by the course was Bernard Darwin, a golf writer who described the creation of Colt in the Times of London as "a monument that is more durable than copper."

"All in all, I find it hard to present an admirable test of golf," Darwin said.

The call to host another Open never came, even because Royal Lytham and Royal Birkdale each had three editions in the next 15 years, and St. Andrews was the site for four. Royal Portrush held the 1960 Amateur Championship and the Irish Amateur in 1952 and & # 39; 57.

"In the 1980s and early 1990s, nobody wanted to come to Northern Ireland, let alone play golf," said Wilma Erskine, the club's secretary for 35 years, the Open website. "We struggled a bit."

The R & A awarded the British Amateur to Royal Portrush in 1993. The Senior Open followed two years later, won by Brian Barnes, the son-in-law of Faulkner.

The Irish Open came in 2012 and set a European Tour attendance record of 112,000. Nevertheless, R&A officials wondered if Royal Portrush was too small to handle a British Open.

The R & A found that the 18th hole was enclosed by the clubhouse, leaving no room for the large seats that created an amphitheater around the last hole of the Open. Business hospitality had no room to build. Local infrastructure was insufficient.

"There would be a lot of work to do for an Open to go to Portrush," said Peter Dawson, the then R&A chief, during the Irish Open.

Clarke did not take that for an answer. Together with McDowell and McIlroy, they held the search for Dawson and others.

"I would speak to him," Clarke said, "and would simply let it slip in time and tell him, & # 39; It's good enough, it's good enough. & # 39; And he listened. "

With commitments from the club and the local government to improve the infrastructure, including a change that would incorporate two holes from Royal Portrush's second course, R & A has the club's 2019 Open awarded.

The 17th and 18th holes have been eliminated in the Open configuration, with two new holes placed late in the front nine. One is the 5th-century seventh hole, with a raised tee forcing golfers to choose whether to take the huge Big Nellie bunker that guards the right.

No. 8 is the other new hole; the original seventh hole will be No. 9, and so on. The most famous hole of Royal Portrush – the 230-yard, uphill par-3 known as Calamity Corner – will now be played as the 16th, followed by the possibly to be driven par 4 No. 17.

"It is an accuracy golf course tee to green, "McDowell said. "Even with the slight lack of roughness, it's still a punishment if you miss it in the wrong places on the tee."

Clarke suggested golfers who quickly had to find the best landing places for the tee, some of which did not require the large pole.

"If they want to drive the driver everywhere," he said, "they will probably only wear half of the clothing they carry."

Translation: They'll probably miss the cut.

"I think the boys will really love it because many of them will never have played there before," Clarke said. "For all those lucky enough to go, it will be a week they will remember."

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