Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club remains a bucket list course for every golfer.
As home to one of the most challenging courses in the world—Dunluce Links—Royal Portrush Golf Club combines a rich history with contemporary appeal to make it a must-play on every golfer’s bucket list. Although it’s a members’ club, it also allows visitors at certain times of the year, and whether your skills are up to the challenge of the Dunluce Links course or are better suited for the adjoining Valley Links course, a visit to Royal Portrush is essential for any golfer who’s going to Ireland. (Or it just might be the best reason for planning a trip there.)
From its location on the North Antrim Causeway Coast in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, the Royal Portrush Golf Club provides dramatic views of the surrounding area. Set on giant sand hills that provide incredible views in addition to flanking natural valleys, the dramatic features of the land have been leveraged by course designers to make it both beautiful and challenging.
To the north, guests can see the Isle of Islay and Southern Hebrides, while the hills of Inishowen in County Donegal lie to the west and the Giant’s Causeway and the Skerries are just east of the course. Overlooking it all are the 13th century ruins of Dunluce Castle, which gave the main course its name.
From the time Royal Portrush was founded in 1888, under the name The Country Club (and with just nine holes to play), it has been a favorite spot for golfers around the world. In July 2019, it hosted the 148th Open Championship; it also hosted that event in 1951, which saw Max Faulkner win the only major champion- ship of his career.
As part of the preparation for this year’s Open, the much-loved course went through some significant changes. The course, which was expanded from nine to 18 holes just one year after it opened, was redesigned again in 1932 as well.
THE LURE OF DUNLUCE LINKS
The recent changes in the course have made it even more appealing. As soon as Royal Portrush was named the site for the 2019 Open, work began on a number of course changes to make it suitable for such a sizeable event. This included reconfiguring some of the holes to make room for the crowd and infrastructure that accompanies the Open, and golf architect Martin Ebert of Mackenzie and Ebert spent 18 months building five new greens, eight new tee boxes, 10 new bunkers and creating two new holes in an area that had previously been part of the Valley course.
The new seaside links course benefits from spectacular ocean views, but the same features that make it beautiful also make it difficult. For example, the 5th hole, dubbed White Rocks, is near the shore and offers an elevated tee so players can take full advantage of the view. Perched 50 feet above the seashore on the edge of the course, it provides a spectacular site. But, as beautiful as the ocean view is, the hole itself is a beast: a short, 382-yeard downhill par 4 that doglegs from left to right.
Just two holes later, players encounter an uphill par five hole named Curran Point, which is one of the biggest bunkers in Ireland and was named for the stretch of beach that runs parallel to it. But perhaps Dunluce’s most notable hole is Calamity Corner, the 236-yard par 3 that features a yawning chasm between the player and hole—with the Valley Links below.
DOWN IN THE VALLEY
While Dunluce Links often overshadows the Valley Links, the second course has its own appeal and also went through design changes under Ebert’s supervision. The Valley course has always taken advantage of the rolling terrain around it, and it isn’t influenced by the wind like the oceanside course, which makes for a calmer round of play. But don’t mistake “calm” for “easy.”
On this course, the feature holes are played back to back; like Dunluce, the fifth hole is memorable, played from an elevated tee in sand. It drops steeply to a green that’s surrounded by large sand dunes and deep bunkers. Immediately after that, there’s an uphill par 3 that requires going uphill to a hole obscured by a dune.
As a final challenge with an unbelievable view, the new 18th hole is a par 4 with a backdrop of the Skerries, which is a small group of rocky islands near the shoreline.
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
If you’ve played either (or both) course at Royal Portrush in the past, playing them today is a new experience due to recent changes. Architects have maintained the lush, breathtaking views and managed to add new challenges to already-challenging courses. If you’re going to visit Royal Portrush, it’s in your best interest to play both courses to truly experience this exceptional golf venue. royalportrushgolfclub.com