Portrush a magnet to attract biggest names

WITH the Irish Open set for Portrush in June, it will be fascinating to see if Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy can attract the quality of field that has been so conspicuously absent for much of the last decade.

Their cause will be helped, however, by the host venue, a fabulous links course, and the fact that it takes place three weeks before the British Open.

It is understandable that Killarney Golf Club and the people of Kerry feel slighted by the move and more so by the decision to stage the 2013 championship at Carton House. However, the call has now been made and everybody with the interest of the country’s flagship tournament at heart will wish it well on its first visit north of the border since 1953.

The Dunluce layout at Portrush will show off all that is best in Irish links golf.

The game was first played on this superb course 125 years ago and, in the meantime, has had many revisions, most notably those made by the distinguished British architect Harry Colt in the build-up to the 1951 British Open, won by the colourful Max Faulkner.

In 1962, the esteemed English golf writer and course architect Frank Pennink described it in his highly regarded Golfer’s Companion as “highest championship calibre” before going on: “Surely one of the six great courses in Britain and Ireland — spectacular, breathtaking but also architecturally sound and subtle. It is hard to imagine a grander, more admirable test of golf by the sea.”

Thirty years later, the much respected Donald Steel, architect, journalist and international golfer, saw things in much the same light in his excellent Classic Golf Links of Great Britain and Ireland.

Steel agreed that Portrush was “a magnificent links on the grandest scale but two qualities set it apart; it is one of the most demanding tests of driving because the fairways are narrow and the rough is rough and the relatively small greens are full of hidden subtleties and tricky slopes.”

All true but, like all links, even Portrush remains vulnerable on a calm, windless day as Rory McIlroy proved by shooting 61 during a qualifying round for the North of Ireland Championship in 2006.

After a tweaking in recent years, it has been stretched to 7,140 yards with a par of 72, but in dry weather could play shorter. The par-five ninth and 10th holes measure a mere 475 and 478 yards respectively and because of their location cannot be lengthened to any great extent. The likelihood is that at least one will play as a par four, as happened with the 11th in the Open’s two years at Killarney.

There are several holes that will test them to the full, most notably the picturesque 457-yard fifth, played from an elevated tee, and the famous 200-yard 14th, known as “Calamity Corner”.

Interestingly, Darren Clarke has been reminding his fellow Ulstermen that the Irish Open hasn’t suddenly become their property.

“The GUI helped all the way through my amateur career and it is what it is, the Golfing Union of Ireland, it is not north or south”, he stated. “I was born in 1968 in the worst of the troubles but sport bridges a lot of things and golf in Ireland has always done this. This is a huge reflection on how much people have moved our country on.”

Timely and worthy comments but now Darren, G-Mac and Rory are taxed with the job of ensuring that the best possible field makes its way to Portrush.

Clarke maintained that “some of the biggest names in golf have been on to me since it was confirmed that the Irish Open was coming to Portrush”, and even hinted that some might be leading Americans.

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