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McDowell’s 18-hole guide to playing Royal Portrush

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It’s a homecoming that was riddled with doubt before Graeme McDowell rediscovered his Major winning form to ensure his safe passage to the Open. Now back on the old stomping ground, who better to take us through the 18-hole threat that the field will face this week than GMac himself:


1 HUGHIE’S par 4. yds 421

An intimidating tee shot, with out of bounds left and right. The typical play is to lay-up short of the bunker on the left-hand side. That will leave a medium-to-long approach shot uphill to a two-tier green, guarded by some very deep bunkers. The miss is to the right, but anything short could catch the false front.


2 GIANT’S GRAVE par 5. yds 574

A definite birdie opportunity. Off the tee, you’ve got to negotiate four bunkers with out of bounds right and thick rough on the left. When going for it in two, the line is straight over the cross bunkers 60 yards short of the green. If you want to lay-up, the play is just short of the bunkers, and into a little bowl.


3 ISLAY par 3. yds 177

An aesthetically beautiful hole, with the green perched in a little bowl. Depending on wind, it’s a potential birdie opportunity. There is a small dune front-left and front-right, where they like to tuck the pins behind. Anything long will catch a severe drop off at the back.


4 FRED DALY’S par 4. yds 482

Stroke index one on the scorecard, and the first real look at Portrush’s teeth. There’s a bunker left off the tee, which is about 300 yards to fly. If you don’t take it on, the landing area squeezes you down the right half and up against the out of bounds, leaving a long iron in. The green is well-protected, and sits below some high dunes which is a characteristic of Portrush.


5 WHITE ROCKS par 4. yds 374

The back tee is no longer in play, so there’s a great chance to blow it up by the green. Missing it on the right is particularly bad because it leaves a terrible angle to a severe, two-tiered green with a large hollow just in front. There’s out of bounds at the back, so it’s a real risk and reward.


6 HARRY COLT’S par 3. yds 194

The tee box sits right by the beach, and plays back into the breeze. The front half of the green is easily accessible, but there is a false front so anything short will roll off. A pin on the back tier will be hard to get at as it brings two large hollows into play.


7 CURRAN POINT par 5. yds 592

A great two- or three-shotter. The main feature is the cavernous bunker on the right. How aggressive you are with the tee shot will determine whether you can take on the green. The approach plays uphill to a plateau, with lots of humps and hollows and a big run-off on the left.


8 DUNLUCE par 4. yds 434

A sweeping dog-leg left with two bunkers on the right. The prevailing wind will be helping, so there’s an opportunity to shorten the hole with a driver and take the traps and corner on. The green is protected by humps on the right and another large run-off on the left.

It’s a fantastic par 4 and huge improvement to what was the 8th hole before. You’ve got two options off the tee. You can take the bunkers out of play short or long. To get past the second bunker is about 320. You can lay back with a 3-wood or long iron, or take driver and hit it past them. It’s a narrow entrance but a good drive will leave just a wedge in.


9 TAVERN par 4. yds 432

One of the toughest holes, and the original 7th. It usually plays back into the breeze and most players will hit a 3-wood off the tee to take the bunkers out of play. The green falls away sharply to the right and slopes from back to front. Two fairway bunkers guard the entrance.


10 HIMALAYAS par 4. yds 447

Another dog-leg where avoiding the sandhills and mounds on the right is a must. Players will favour the left side, knowing that the further down you can get the tee shot, the more the putting surface reveals itself. The green is long and narrow, with a couple of elevation changes which can easily catch you out.


11 P.G. STEVENSON’S par 4. yds 474

Traditionally a par 5 for members. It’s one of the most intimidating tee shots on the course and you’ll see a lot of missed fairways from guys trying to cut the corner. It’s probably one of the toughest holes because even if you find the front portion of the green, your ball can roll 40, 50 or 60 yards back down the fairway, leaving a blind chip shot up the hill.


12 DHU VARREN par 5. yds 532

The last of the par 5s, played from an elevated tee to a well-bunkered fairway. There’s plenty of room left to attack with a driver, but those who get into trouble will be laying up to a fairway which squeezes in at around 100 yards from the green. It’s a dangerous hole, with lots of run-off areas surrounding an upturned saucer of a green.


13 FEATHER BED par 3. yds 194

Another downhill tee shot which plays 185 yards to the middle. The green sits exposed and in a bowl which is surrounded by some horrible pot bunkers. When the wind swirls, club choice can be a nightmare.


14 CAUSEWAY par 4. yds 473

Position is key off the tee to negotiate all the humps and bumps. The further you advance it down the fairway, the narrower it gets so expect most players to lay-up with an iron. The green is one of the most treacherous, and anything left is mega dangerous and will find a deep bunker, which yields a small percentage of up and downs.


15 SKERRIES par 4. yds 426

A dog-leg left up over a hill, with fairways bunkers on the right. It’s a potential birdie opportunity, but if you don’t hit it far enough you’ll have a blind approach shot. The green falls away sharply at the back, with run-offs on the right and a bunker pin high.


16 CALAMITY CORNER par 3. yds 236

The finish to the course is epic, starting here. I’ve hit a driver many times & anything short or right will leave a pitch from thick rough, 40 or 50ft below the putting surface. The green is generous, but Bobby Locke’s hollow is the target spot – especially if the wind gets up. It’s a spectacular example of a par 3. You’re always happy walking off with a three!


17 PURGATORY par 4. yds 408

A risk and reward hole, which plays blind off the tee. I’ve driven the green many times over the years, but you can lay-up to the top of the hill, leaving a wedge in. The entrance to the green is narrow, and an aggressive drive does bring thick rough into play on the right, and two deep bunkers short and left.


18 BABINGTON’S par 4. yds 474

A spectacular final hole, played from an elevated tee. Two fairway bunkers on the right push you left and towards the out of bounds. The further down you get your tee shot, the more the green opens up so there’s risk and reward. A more conservative play leaves a blind and longer second. I’m expecting a lot of drama because the drive and approach shot is fraught with danger.

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