Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Golf Digest - BY STUART MCLEAN, ED­I­TOR

Golfers around the world as­pire to at­tend one of the four ma­jors.The Mas­ters is usu­ally the favourite. But, get­ting a badge for Augusta Na­tional is dif­fi­cult, and if you’re lucky enough to ob­tain one, it comes with a hefty price tag.

For any­one seek­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the spe­cial qual­i­ties of a ma­jor, a good one to at­tend would be the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush GC in North­ern Ire­land in 2019. It will be a rar­ity among ma­jors in that the Open is re­turn­ing to this part of the UK for the first time in 68 years. Since it was last there in 1951 (Bobby Locke was the de­fend­ing cham­pion), the ma­jors have only been played in the US, Scot­land and Eng­land.

The R&A have long ob­served a strict rota of links cour­ses for the Open – five in Scot­land and four in Eng­land – so there was re­ally no need to add an­other. But Royal Portrush is such a fa­bled championship links that it didn’t take much per­suad­ing for The R&A to re­con­sider the lo­gis­tics of host­ing an Open there, and then agree to it when their de­mands were met.The suc­cess of Ir­ish golfers Padraig Har­ring­ton, Dar­ren Clarke and Rory McIl­roy in win­ning the claret jug must have in­flu­enced their much-lauded de­ci­sion.

McIl­roy holds the Portrush course record, a re­mark­able 61 at age 16 in 2005, with a back nine of 28, in the North of Ire­land Am­a­teur. Portrush is a small sea­side re­sort, where golf has been an at­trac­tion for more than a cen­tury, and I was for­tu­nate to be there on the eve of the re­cent Ir­ish Open at nearby Port­stew­art. My visit co­in­cided with the open­ing of two spec­tac­u­lar new holes on Royal Portrush’s Dun­luce Links. One of the con­di­tions of tak­ing the Open back to NI was that the club had to agree to the elim­i­na­tion of the two bland fin­ish­ing holes, 17 and 18, which had served the club well for many decades.The old 16th is now the 18th; sadly you can’t see the green from the club­house.

These two holes and their sur­round- ings will be bull­dozed flat to ac­com­mo­date the vast tented fa­cil­i­ties the mod­ern Open re­quires.This dras­tic mea­sure will se­cure Royal Portrush’s per­ma­nent po­si­tion on the Open rota.Tourism NI be­lieves that hav­ing an Open course will grow rev­enue from golf tourism from £32 mil­lion to £50 mil­lion by 2020. Hav­ing the Ir­ish Open at Port­stew­art, a links as dra­matic in ap­pear­ance as Portrush, was the first step in show­cas­ing golf on the Cause­way Coast to a global au­di­ence. Port­stew­art did some bull­doz­ing of their own to get this Euro­pean Tour event, flat­ten­ing their old club­house, and build­ing a new enor­mous ed­i­fice.The NI gov­ern­ment played its part by con­struct­ing new roads, and you can now reach Portrush from Belfast in 90 min­utes. It’s three hours from Dublin.With a train sta­tion at Portrush, big crowds can be ex­pected at the Open.

A vis­i­tor green fee at Royal Portrush is R3 200 (£190), and the four­balls of Amer­i­can and Ja­panese tourists roll out ev­ery day in sum­mer. It’s a friendly club. The starter in­formed me there had been 87 ap­pli­ca­tions that day for cad­dies.The club only has 60 cad­dies to call upon, so nearly half were do­ing dou­ble shifts, morn­ing and af­ter­noon. It’s all feed­ing the lo­cal econ­omy.

Royal Portrush will be an ex­cit­ing ad­di­tion to the Open rota, be­cause it is a vis­ually thrilling links at which to play and view golf.The rugged, un­du­lat­ing ter­rain is the chal­lenge, so the course only has 62 bunkers, fewer than any other links on the rota.The two new holes at the far end of the course, Nos 7 and 8, have been built amidst gi­ant dunes on part of the neigh­bour­ing Val­ley Links.This is where Graeme McDow­ell honed his golf­ing skills as a mem­ber of Rath­more GC, a work­ing man’s club.

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