Royal PORTRUSH golf club -
It's easy to proclaim your love for a course when you are knocking the lights out, a little harder when you aren't quite firing on all cylinders. Royal Portrush though is such a great place to be that, whatever the standard of your game, it's impossible not to leave with a smile on your face and planning a return visit.
Portrush is about to be thrust back onto the world stage when it hosts The Open in 2019 (for the first time since 1951) and I am sure that the world will marvel at this great course and that it will be talked about in the same breath as the very best Open courses.
So what makes it so special? Well, firstly the club has a lovely feel to it. It's not stuffy or pretentious and feels more welcoming to visitors than rival Royal County Down - this is a club and a course for golfers.
The drive in is spectacular and you get a great view over the golf course and beyond, which sets you up mentally for something quite special. There are fantastic dunes - like Turnberry or Birkdale - but, compared to those two, more elevation changes as well. Not only does it make for some demanding holes, it also provides some great views.
You have no doubt when you are playing this course that you are on a classic links course. Some of the stops on the Open rota (I'm thinking Carnoustie and Lytham for example) suffer from not seeing the sea. That's not a problem here. The ground feels like classic links turf and you can smell and see the water.
Another great thing is that this is a playable course. If you've read a few of my other reviews you will know that counts for a lot in my book. County Down just destroyed me; Ballybunion had a really good go. Portrush won't. Yep, there are a couple of blind shots but, more often than not, you can see what lies ahead and follow your ball. If you stray off of the fairway you will be punished but not as vindictively as you can find at some others. No, this is a course which you will get around without too much worry - although clearly the strength of the wind will play a part. Don't think this course is a pushover though. Holes like the long par 3 14th, Calamity, will test you as well as any hole in the world.
I played Portrush a few years ago and it was obvious that the last couple of holes needed looking at. They were out of keeping with the rest of the course and added nothing. That has been rectified now with two new holes added in the middle of the round - the 7th and 8th opened in Summer 2017 and will elevate this course once again. I'm looking forward to getting back here to look at the changes and I have a feeling that we will see this course elevated to maybe a 19 - one of the very best anywhere, and definitely one of the most fun to play.
BOOKING THE COURSE
As with every top links course in the UK, it's relatively straightforward to book a tee time at Royal Portrush. The course is open to visitors 7 days a week although there are some restrictions on what time visitors can play, to accommodate members (which seems only reasonable).
The peak green fee is £190 in the summer but off season (November- March) it starts at only £60 which is really fantastic.
There is no on-line availability guide but you can fill in a form on the Royal Portrush website to get things moving
Either Portrush or next door Portstewart would be good places to stay. This is classic seaside resort stuff with the pubs, fish and chip shops and arcade machines you would expect. It is a really pleasant area and if you are there in the height of the season expect to be sharing the resort with families on their summer holidays. Golf-wise, Portstewart (host to the 2017 Irish Open) is within 15 minutes drive and would make for a good double-header. You are an hour away from Belfast, and its international airport, and a couple of hours from Royal County Down if you are looking to make a comparison of these two great courses.