11/5/19

Eclectic 18 UK – Hole No. 16: “Calamity,” Royal Portrush

An analysis of the 16th hole at Royal Portrush Golf Club (Dunluce Links)

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“Calamity” wouldn’t describe my last visit to the 14th 16th at Royal Portrush Golf Club’s Dunluce Links. It perhaps could have done, as I hung precariously from the electronic scoreboard left of the green, trying to catch a glimpse of Shane Lowry’s march to an Open victory. Is the word “criminal” perhaps more apt? If so, Frank Casey Jr. of Rosapenna Golf Resort and Nick Wall of Air Swing Media would be my cell mates.

Photo credit: Gary Lisbon

It must have been an intimidating view for the world’s best golfers: a wall of spectators pushing the eye right, toward the sheer side slope of a thirty-foot (-ish, probably more) dune ridge.

A panorama of the 16th hole during the 2019 Open Championship. Photo credit: Clyde Johnson

For those boys, 236 yards. For you and me, not much shorter. The main similarity? A long carry that must travel over the gnarly chasm.

The green angles left to right with the dune ridge so that the flag appears to hang above oblivion. For a right-hander, a fade is best suited—not that most of us can really afford the loss of distance from cutting against the prevailing wind, which howls from somewhere out west. With Colt’s Valley course well below to the right and the fore-dune five fairways over, there’s not much protection from the gale!

Hedging short and left toward the top of the rumpled ridge seems sensible, though you’re never quite sure what lurks beyond—or the lie that you will find. A slither of fairway lets you chase one under the wind, though the edge of the abyss runs all the way up to the front of the green and will catch any slight misses to the right. Left of the tiny entrance to the putting surface hides “Bobby Locke’s Hollow.” Putts and chips from this elegantly shaped depression are quite delicate. So ultimately there’s nowhere to hide. “Calamity” demands little less than perfection.

The Dunluce course as a whole separates itself from nearly all other links in two main ways:

  • Dramatic elevation changes. The course climbs steeply with the approach to the 1st, chases along a hillside with the brilliant 4th, and dips down to the cliff edge at the famous 5th. The routing then bounds back and forth through the heart of the linksland, culminating at the drop-shot 13th. As you go up and over on No. 15 to a green that appears to sit on the crashing waves, your sense of anticipation builds. Still, only when you’ve negotiated “Calamity” without calamity can you enjoy the semi-blind descent of No. 17.
  • Bold green complexes. Fourteen of Colt’s survive. The beautifully bowled 2nd was pushed back and benched; Nos. 7 and 8 are new; and the skinny saddle of the 10th has some added internal ripple. But the originals have a scale that sets this grandest of links apart. Often pushed up and surrounded by severe fall-offs, these greens don’t rely on pot bunkering. The exterior contours, which seem to prop the greens up, typically dissipate gracefully toward the interiors.

Throughout Portrush, the undulations of the greens vary in order to maintain equilibrium with the surrounding elevation changes. Unsurprisingly, at “Calamity,” Colt lets the terrain do much of the work. The green nestles quietly against the treacherous edge.

This summer, the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush rightly found itself in the world spotlight. I’d call it the third (or fourth) most architecturally interesting course on the Open rota, behind only St. Andrews, Muirfield, and (maybe) Sandwich. I do regret, however, that in preparing the course for the tournament, it was necessary to do away with two of the best holes from the Valley course, the club’s other—very fine—links.

One advantage of that change, however, is that it pushed “Calamity” two holes later, where it now sits perfectly poised toward the end of the round. It didn’t strike Shane Lowry earlier this year, but next time the Claret Jug is on the line, perhaps “Calamity” will befall a contender at the least opportune moment.


Eclectic 18 UK is the brainchild of golf course architects Jaeger Kovich and Clyde Johnson. Read more about the series here, and follow Jaeger and Clyde on Instagram.

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