The Open Championship was last held in Northern Ireland in 1951 and the champion earned 300£ (or roughly $11,000 today). Max Faulkner surely cherished clutching the Claret Jug as he stood on the 18th green at Royal Portrush and the winner’s check was a welcome sight as well. However, when compared to the $1.8 million Jordan Spieth collected for winning last summer at Royal Birkdale, the paltry pay Faulkner received reflects the immense growth professional golf has enjoyed during the last 66 years.
As the purses and galleries increased, having sufficient room to erect the necessary infrastructure on and around the course became a requisite ingredient for any club wishing to play host to the Open Championship. Few doubted the quality of the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush – it’s routinely ranked in the top 20 in the World – and whether the golf holes provided a stern enough test to deserve a spot in the Open rota. But the tight quarters around the course seemed too cramped to welcome 200,000 spectators during tournament week and ensure they enjoyed a pleasant experience.
Bordered by Bushmills / Dunluce Road on one side and the North Atlantic Ocean on the other, it appeared Royal Portrush in County Antrim, Northern Ireland must remain content to live forever as a one-time Open Championship host and savor the fading memories from Faulkner’s magical week.
That was the situation until 2014 when leaders from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club along with noted golf course architects Tom Mackenzie and Martin Ebert formed a plan to renovate Dunluce Links, create the necessary room for the Open’s Spectator Village and make the golf course a demanding test for the modern professional without compromising legendary Harry S. Colt’s design from the 1930s. The legendary golf writer Bernard Darwin described Dunluce Links as such in 1951:
Mr. H.S. Colt, who
designed it in its present
form, has thereby built
himself a monument more
enduring than brass.
Upon receiving unanimous approval for the renovations from the Royal Portrush membership in 2015, the R&A awarded the club the 2019 Open Championship. On-course construction began that fall and was completed in the summer of 2017. Each step of the journey, Mackenzie and Ebert surely saw Colt’s vision and heard Darwin’s words, as they steered their crew to execute a renovation fit to carry the course through the Open and decades beyond.
With the R&A intending to use the former 17th and 18th holes on Dunluce Links as the Spectator Village, it was Mackenzie and Ebert’s task to create two new additions on the existing property. They added the 7th, a 572-yard par-5, and the 8th, a 435-yard par-4, which fit the terrain and routing as if they’ve been in place for decades. No. 16, the brutish 235-yard par-3 known as Calamity Corner, is one of the only bunkerless holes at Royal Portrush – not as if sand is needed to protect par. Open contenders will aim to avoid Bobby Locke’s Hollow which lines the left side, poised to collect a wild hook or pull.
In all, Dunluce Links has the fewest bunkers (70) of any course in the Open rota. By comparison, there are 150 at Muirfield and 210 at Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s.
Now, the refreshed and enhanced Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush, measuring more than 7,300 yards, sits along the shore waiting to test the world’s best in the summer of 2019. Once again, Mackenzie and Ebert have doctored a course in the Open rota and prepared it to face the extraordinary talent of the modern professional golfer.
Golf observers, club members and historians hope for a mystical week in July 2019 to extend a golden era for Irish golf as Dublin native Padraig Harrington, local favorite Graeme McDowell, longtime Royal Portrush member Darren Clarke and world No. 10 Rory McIlroy – who grew up in Holywood roughly 60 miles away – have claimed major titles in the last decade.
PerryGolf can take you to Royal Portrush. Join the Hogan Bracket on the 2018 Open Championship Cruise and you can test your game on the renovated links, pausing certainly to snap a photo on No. 13, a beautiful par-3, known as ‘Feather Bed.’
You can also attend the final round of the 148th Open Championship in 2019 and play other great links in the rota along the way, such as Royal Liverpool and Royal Birkdale, by joining PerryGolf on a 12-day cruise from Edinburgh to London aboard the luxurious Azamara Journey.