The bold statement in the headline is one we thought about carefully before committing it to print. However, after reflecting on it, we are confident to stand by it. The front nine holes on the Strand Course are possibly, the best front nine holes of links golf, anywhere in the world. There, we said it again!
We should mention that the back nine holes are fantastic holes as well, they just don’t have the drama and spectacle of the front nine.
Crazy or Genius?
The original Strand Course opened in 1908 and has seen a number of makeovers including one by Willie Park Jnr in the 1920’s. What is mind boggling to us is that the course layout, as it is today, was designed by a Portstewart member, a local schoolteacher named Des Giffin, in 1986.
After the Club purchased additional land, it is amazing to us that the Club entrusted Des to design the course. Obviously, and to everyone’s delight that has played the Strand, the Club was right to do that.
Now, a word of warning, this article will not be like most of the articles we do. Normally we select three or possibly four holes in each nine to write about. This article will feature probably THIRTEEN holes. So if you don’t want to read that much, just have a look at the photos and wonder how you would play each of these holes!
The Strand Course
The walk to the first tee is wonderful. You walk up the path and go to your right. As you get up to the top, you are facing the beach and the ocean. You follow the path round to the tee which gives you the view you see in the headline photo.
From this elevated viewpoint you can see the first fairway and way to the right, the first green. Beyond the first, you get a glimpse of the eighth fairway and green with the enormous sand dunes in the background. It’s a sight to make you smile and lick your lips in anticipation.
Ricky, the starter, gave us a brief overview of the course and told us that the halfway house sold the best pint of Guinness in a plastic cup in Ireland. We will put that statement to the test later.
As usual, we chose to play from the white tees at 6626 yards. The four sets of tees range from just under 5900 yards to over 7100 yards. It’s a par 72 from the blue, green, and white tees.
Away We Go
The first hole is intimidating. It doglegs to the right and is 417 yards. For us, it was a driver off the tee, which remarkably found the fairway, then a 6 iron into the breeze onto the putting surface. Two putts and we were off and running. Nothing could have prepared us for the sight of the 2nd tee!
The 2nd hole, Devil’s Hill
The 2nd hole is only 360 yards but is is one of the most beautiful and scariest holes we have played. From the elevated tee, picking a club to find the sliver of fairway is a challenge in itself. If you find the fairway, your troubles aren’t over. The 2nd shot is uphill to a small green. It plays further than the yardage so take enough club to get up.
The 3rd hole
Next up, is a 205 yard par 3. It plays downhill but into the prevailing wind. For us it was a 3 hybrid which carried the front bunker but fell off the green to the right. We didn’t get up and down. You need to hit the green to make par.
View back down the 4th
The 4th is a 522 yard par 5. Finding the fairway off the tee is imperative. The dunes on either side of the fairway will swallow up any errant tee shot and making a par will be almost impossible. A tough hole but a beauty.
The 5th hole, Rifle Range
The fifth hole is statistically the hardest hole on the course. At 449 yards, it will take two good shots to find the green which is tucked into the dunes. Miss it on either side and you are in trouble. Another great hole.
Wonderful Short Hole
The 6th, Five Penny Piece
We would imagine the name comes from the size of the green. The hole is only 135 yards, but much like the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, you can’t miss the green left or right, or short or long. A cracking short par 3.
Your second shot to the 7th, Strawberry Hill
The 7th is a short par 5, at only 475 yards, but it plays uphill. If you take it on in two, there is no margin for error on either side up at the green. Play it as a three shot hole and it’s a straightforward par, if you stay out of the dunes.
Your 2nd shot to the 8th green
The 8th hole has a 90 degree turn to the left at the landing area. It plays downhill so take a club off the tee that won’t run through the fairway at 250 yards. The 2nd shot is a tester, we had a 6 iron into the breeze which found the putting surface and two putts later we walked off happy with our par.
The 9th green
The 9th hole is a short par 4 at 350 yards. A birdie chance? Only if you find the hogs back fairway. Your second shot is to a green that sits on a plateau. We took an extra club to try and get back to this pin and we were on the green but 40 feet short. Deceptive but delicious wee hole.
Draught Guinness at the Halfway House
A well earned Guinness in a plastic cup
As we said earlier, there are no poor holes on this course, only less spectacular holes than the front nine. The following are our pick of the back nine.
The 11th green
The 11th hole is only 375 yards but if you miss the fairway as we did, it becomes a treacherous hole. It took our very best 5 iron from the rough, to a green we couldn’t see, to get on the back of the green. Any shot that doesn’t make it to the middle of the putting surface, is in danger of running back off and down that slope. A great short par 4.
Don’t Miss the Green!
The 15th hole
The 15th is another lovely par 3. Playing 159 yards into a right to left wind, the green is raised up which again means that you have to find the putting surface to have the best chance of a par. We lost our shot in the wind and went long left, not the place to be.
Approach to the 17th
The 17th hole is the 2nd toughest hole on the card. At 428 yards, this hole is all about the second shot. For us it was playing down wind but that didn’t make it easy. The green sits up like a table top and is quite narrow in depth. We took a club based on the yardage to the front and didn’t make it, even with the wind at our backs. We managed an up and down though and made our way to the last tee.
Last but not Least
A welcome sight, the Clubhouse
As you can probably tell from the photos on the back nine, the weather had closed in, the wind had got up and a fine rain was chasing us home. The last hole was into the wind and slightly uphill. A good drive followed by a good 3 hybrid took us to the left of the green. My best chip shot of the day and a 3 foot putt meant we finished with two good pars.
On a trip where we are playing a number of marquee courses, The Strand Course at Portstewart Golf Club will live long in our memory. That front nine in particular is breathtaking and there’s some wonderful holes on the back nine. This course has made it into our top ten links courses and maybe even into our top five. It’s that good!
If you are ever in Northern Ireland, you must play here. It’s not cheap to do so but the Strand is a bucket list course, even if you don’t know it yet. Hopefully this article has whet your appetite to visit. If it hasn’t then we have failed in our photo taking and writing. We guarantee that you will not be disappointed in the Strand.
P.S. We didn’t feature the 12th, the par 3 which plays downhill from an elevated tee with views of the River Bann in the background as the green was being renovated. If we had done that would have been a record for us, featuring 14 of the 18 holes.
Thank you to everyone at Portstewart for a wonderful day. To the General Manager, David MacLaren and Jeanie in Reservations who organised our round, Alan who introduced us the Captain Stephen and Vice-Captain Niall, and to Ricky the Starter, who recommended the halfway house Guinness.
At a Glance:
- Irish Open Venue
- 54 holes over 3 courses, the Strand, the Old Course and the Riverside
- Practice area with short game facilities
- Outstanding Pro Shop
- Lovely Clubhouse with views over the courses
- Welcoming Members and Staff
- Beautiful beach just down from the Clubhouse
- 75 minutes north of Belfast City Centre