The Unique appeal of Links and Open Championship Venues.
Returning from Royal Portrush having lost in the second round of the match-play stages of The North of Ireland Amateur Open Championship, The Open Championship in Royal Troon on TV provided a much needed distraction. Once the initial disappointment of defeat in Portrush wore off, I began to compare the two venues having competed at both courses in Amateur Championship golf down through the years.
Firstly, they are both majestic links courses. It is little wonder Portrush will host it’s second Open Championship in three years time and still the only Irish venue to host the Championship. Troon meanwhile is hosting its ninth championship.
Phil Mickelson lipped out for birdie on the last in an effort to shoot 62 and in doing so claim the lowest round ever recorded in Major Championship history. Not taking away from a performance that was truly outstanding, but this would not have been possible on a breezier day. This however is the essence of links golf. Our best Championship course play relatively easy on calm days, but add 10mph, 15mph or 20 mph winds and all of a sudden the difficulty increases tenfold. The consensus among sports writers is that the front nine in Royal Troon is the scoring nine. I can concur and no doubt scoring this week will bear that out. The first six holes in particular offer up birdie chances before reaching the relatively short but tricky par four seventh. The eight hole has just gained infamy and this author can recall a fellow competitor talking a 12 and a 1 in his two rounds at a British Mid-Amateur Championship some years back. Just 123 yards but if you miss the green there is carnage in store. The well named coffin bunker has to be seen to be believed.
The eleventh hole is one of the most difficult in golf and when you hear some of the best players in the world describe it as the most difficult driving hole in golf you know it has t be tough. One of the biggest problems is you can’t see the fairway from the tee and with the railway line left and gorse left there is no bail out. This hole will have a big say in the destination of the Claret Jug this week and if you make four pars here you are certainly gaining a lot of ground on the field.
The long par three seventeenth and par four eighteenth will also provide a severe examination for anyone with eyes on the Claret Jug, particularly if the wind blows. A raised green on a hole measuring 224 yards and an outbounds line tight to the back edge of eighteen will most certainly be foremost in potential the Champion golfer’s minds.
The famed North Antrim Links will host the 2019 Open Championship. Like Royal Troon it will no doubt prove to be a fantastic venue. Unlike Royal Troon it does not have two nines going more or less straight out and straight back, and there is no distinction as to which nine is easier. Both nines present a couple of good birdie chances but also potential card wreckers. The second hole no doubt will be a birdieable par five that most will seek to take advantage of while the fourth will strike fear in a lot of hearts. Similar to the eleventh in Troon there is no bailout with out of bounds right and munchies left. It is slightly less difficult however by virtue of the fact that player will be able to see where they are hitting to. The scenic fifth is a short par four that offer a birdie chance however is fraught with danger with out of bounds and a cliff top bordering the back edge of the green. There is little doubt the existing ninth (now a par five) will play as a par four. Again, this is a must hut fairway.
The construction of two new holes is well underway and both look spectacular. The current seventeenth and eighteenth will be lost however there will be a mouth watering finish in store for the Open Championship in 2019. The aptly name calamity, a par three played over a deep ravine from 225 yards will prove a test for the best players in the world, especially if there is a stiff breeze blowing. The short par four (current 15th) will be the penultimate hole which should provide plenty of drama with some players choosing to have a go at the green while others lay up. The present 16th will make a fantastic closing hole. Out of bounds left off the tee, two deep bunkers right and very narrow approach to a green that sits at a 45 degree angle will focus players minds on the task at hand.
Looking at the work on the course for the past few days with new bunkering and new tees abound, the new look Portrush looks spectacular. I played behind Rory once upon a time in Portrush when he shot 61. Never say never but I would be surprised if he does it again. Then again, what do I know, I most certainly would not have anticipated seeing anyone shoot 63 around Royal Troon at an Open Championship.