The Hardest Course on the Open Championship Rota? That would be Royal Portrush!

Before Shane Lowry won The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019, we didn’t know much about  Royal Portrush. The Dunluce Links had previously hosted the Open Championship in 1951, way before many of our readers were born.

That means that all we know about the Club and the Dunluce Links, is what we saw on TV. We remember the wild weather, we remember how hard the course played, and we remember the Irish crowds willing Shane on to a famous and well deserved victory.

That Open must have made a lasting impression with the R&A as after a gap of 68 years between the first two Open’s at Portrush, it returns again in 2025. Only six years of a gap this time. Well done to Shane, and well done to the people of Ireland!

History Lesson

The Golf Club started its journey in 1888 and was known as The County Club. It became a Royal club in 1892 when HRH The Duke of York became its patron. It changed its name to Royal Portrush in 1895 with the HRH The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) as its patron.

Harry Colt changed the layout of the links in 1929 and it remained that way until Martin Ebert was commissioned to construct two new holes, holes that were previously part of the Valley course at Royal Portrush. These holes came into play in 2017 and are now the 7th and 8th on the championship course.

The Dunluce Links

After a quick warm-up on the practice range and a few putts on the practice green, we stepped onto the first tee. We were joined by Phil from London and Ali and Madoda from South Africa. A few wise words from the starter and we were off.

We all chose to play off the white tees at 6705 yards. There are also Green tees at 6476 yards and Bronze tees at 6097 yards. Choose the tees to suit your game and on reflection, due to a 15 mph wind, we all should have chosen better!


The first hole, Hughies, is a 382 yard par 4. With the wind blowing left to right across us, we didn’t manage to hold the fairway. The second shot is uphill to a hidden green, all you see is the flag. The rough was lush and deep, we hacked it out into the bunker on the left, short of the green so it was no surprise that we started with a bogey. Army golf at its best!


The 3rd hole, Islay (pronounced eye-la) is a 145 yard devil of a hole. There is trouble left and right of the green. The wind was into and out our left and it took a well struck 6 iron to finish pin high and right of the putting surface. The run off slopes on either side of the green will not stop your ball, then its deep rough. It was another easy bogey!

Tough Stretch

Fred Daly’s

The 4th hole, Fred Daly’s, plays from right to left. At 455 yards, it was another hole that caused us difficulty as the wind was out the left. Holding the fairway and avoiding the out of bounds proved difficult for some. It doesn’t look too bad in the photo but there are four deep bunkers on the left side of the fairway so it narrows your landing area. Our 3 wood off the tee proved a wise choice although it left us over 200 yards out. Our 3 hybrid second took a big bounce and we finished on the back edge of the green. Two putts gave us a welcome par.

White Rocks

The 5th hole, White Rocks, is a wonderful 382 yard dogleg par 4. If you look closely, you can see a white mark on an embankment in the left centre of the photo. That’s the line and you won’t see it land. Playing into the wind, it will take two excellent shots to reach the green which sits on the horizon. Once there you get a great view of White Rocks beach. The view certainly took our minds off the four shots and a lost ball, it took us to reach the green…Avoid the rough on this hole at all costs!

Avoid the Massive bunker

The 7th hole, Curran Point, is an outstanding par 5 of 552 yards. The first challenge is to avoid the enormous bunker up the right. It doesn’t look that big in this photo, but it’s bigger than most greens and the face is at least 15 foot high. One of our players pitched his drive into the face. We saw it go in but there was no sign of it. We had to rake around and he eventually found his ball. Not allowed in the rules you understand but a Pro V is a Pro V. You have been warned! If you avoid the bunker, play it as a 3 shot hole and try to make a par.

We told you the bunker was big!

A Graveyard for Golf Balls

If we thought the front nine was tough, the holes on the back nine were tighter and more difficult, for all of our group anyway. The back nine was a graveyard for golf balls. We lost four golf balls and as a group, it was certainly over a dozen. The rough just off the fairway is penal.

Dhu Varren

The 12th hole, Dhu Varren, is a great example of how tight the holes on the back nine are. A 500 yard par 5, the further you hit it off the tee, the tighter it gets. The bunkers cut into the fairway and there is hay on either side. Our advice, take something to Rach the fairway short of the bunkers, then 2 iron shots will get you safely onto the green. Hindsight is wonderful, isn’t it?


Feather Bed

The 13th hole, Feather Bed, offers some respite from trying to hit narrow fairways. It plays 165 yards and is downhill to the green. It was into the wind for us and it took a well struck 5 iron to get on the front. As the name suggests, it was a much more relaxing hole to play.


The 15th hole, Skerries, is “only” 370 yards however the is a large sandy waste area on your left and three bunkers up the right of the fairway.  Avoid those and you are left with a medium iron into a small green with bunkers on the left and a run off slope on the right. Miss this green right at your peril…

The World Famous Calamity Corner

Calamity Corner

Since the 2019 Open, the 16th hole, Calamity Corner, has become world famous. There is no bailout so if you can’t carry the ball 190 yards in the air, choose another tee on this hole. It was playing 202 yards in a right to left wind, with the pin in the centre of the green. We ignored the pin and took a 3 hybrid which finished just off the green on the left. Two putts and we walked off with an easy par. Don’t see what all the fuss is about… The Pro’s play it from a tee about 30 yards further back!


The 17th hole, Purgatory, is a 360 yard downhill par 4. An easy hole you might think? Maybe the name will give you a clue. The fairway is narrow and as you can see from the photo, anything landing on the left side will kick further left into the rough or the bunker. Three of the four in our group lost a ball on this hole. The one that didn’t almost drove the green! An old fashioned risk and reward hole if you take a driver. Our advice is play to the top of the hill where the landing area is widest. The second shot will be longer but at least you won’t lose a ball like we did.

Our Bucket List Summary

The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush is as tough and challenging as any Open Championship venue. It says a lot that we found Carnoustie easier to play!. That’s not to say it is not an enjoyable challenge. In fact, we have never enjoyed losing 5 golf balls in one round, so much.

It is the ultimate test of ball striking and controlling your ball in the wind. Our group, all single figure golfers, failed miserably in that respect and we reckon we lost over 20 balls as a group. However, in the bar afterwards, we all agreed that we would love to take on the challenge again, now we have seen what not to do.

Thank you to General Manager, John Lawler CCM, and Angus in the reservations team for hosting us. Thank you also to Phil, Ali and Madoda for their great company. None of us will forget our visit to Royal Portrush anytime soon.

At a Glance:

  • Open Championship Venue, hosting again in 2025
  • 36 holes, The Dunluce and the Valley courses
  • Traditional Clubhouse with loads of golf history on the walls
  • Full sized practice area with short game area
  • Excellent large putting green
  • Outstanding Pro Shop with all the branded gear you could wish for
  • Just over an hours drive from Belfast City Centre

Jim Callaghan has been a Category One Golfer for over 45 years. Recently retired from Club Management, he now walks the fairways of some of the best golf courses in the UK, Ireland and Europe and writes about the experience of playing and staying at them for

Now in his 60’s, he is still carrying his bag, although maybe not for much longer!

If you would like Jim to write about your venue, email him at [email protected] or call him on 0044 (0) 78522 88732