Royal Portrush: 10 things that make this place so special

Royal Portrush Golf Club

Royal Portrush Golf Club is, without question, one of the world’s great links.

It has hosted the game’s great players since 1888: Harry Vardon, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy (and many more besides) are just some of the legendary footsteps you will be following in as you walk around Royal Portrush Golf Club.

The town sits on Northern Ireland’s stunning Causeway Coastal Route, where craggy cliffs overlook dramatic beaches. You’ll find Royal Portrush nestled amid sandhills and boasting views as far as the mountains of County Donegal in the west and to the island of Islay in the north.

Royal Portrush Golf Club beach
Royal Portrush sits on the dramatic Causeway Coastal Route. Credit: Adam Montgomery

Standing watch over the links are the ruins of the spectacular Dunluce Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and lends its name to Royal Portrush’s iconic Dunluce Links, widely and rightly viewed as one of the world’s great tests of golf. The club dates back to 1888 when The Country Club, as it was known then, was formed by two Scotsmen, George L. Baillie and Thomas Gilroy, as a 9-hole course.

Old Tom Morris added a further 9 holes in 1889 and in 1892 the name was changed to The Royal Country Club. It wasn’t until 1895 that it was renamed Royal Portrush Golf Club – the same year it hosted the first professional golf tournament ever held in Ireland. Scotsman Alex ‘Sandy’ Herd, the club’s first professional, defeated Harry Vardon. However, it wasn’t until 1929 that Harry Colt, having made his name at Muirfield and Pine Valley, was brought in to create what is now the Dunluce Links

Royal Portrush Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle dates back to the 13th century. Credit: Chris McCourt

But with so much history, drama and folklore, how do you make the most of a Royal Portrush golf trip? We have created a guide to help you go under the skin of one of the world’s great golf destinations, spot things you might otherwise miss and understand why this place is so significant.

So here are the 10 things not to miss on a trip to Royal Portrush, whether are fortunate to make the trip with your golf clubs or are coming to watch some of the best golfers in the world. Here are 10 things you need to know before you go to Royal Portrush Golf Club.

The 5th green at Royal Portrush
The 5th green at Royal Portrush
  1. Show-stopping signature holes

    Royal Portrush’s Dunluce Links is a course without weaknesses, but also without one signature hole – it’s got a bunch of them. The par-4 5th is certainly one: the dramatic green sits on the cliff tops above White Rocks beach. From the tee you have the option to cut the corner, a dog-leg right, and attempt to thump a driver down towards the green, or to play more strategically down the fairway with an iron to leave yourself a shortish approach. The two-tier green is a devil: anything long is out of bounds and anything short rolling back down towards you.Another hole which certainly warrants a mention is the par-3 16th, infamously known as Calamity Corner. From the tips it measures 236 yards and more often than not plays into a stiff breeze. A deep ravine down the right, means you will never see your ball again if you are short and right. Left of the green is a smart play and you might even find yourself in Locke’s Hollow, named after Open champion Bobby Locke. At the 1951 Open, the hollow was where he decided to play to each day. Calamity Corner is one of the highest points on the course, the views are spectacular but it’s not called calamity for nothing! I hit driver 15 feet from the flag. With my second ball.

    Royal Portrush surfers
    Surfers love to ride the waves into White Rocks Beach Credit: Geoffrey Moffett
  2. The setting

    The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club is, of course, named after the 13th century castle which overlooks the course to the east. Although it lies in ruins today, it remains a brooding presence as you move out to the far corner of the course and it comes into view at the back of the 5th green and 6th tee. Game of Thrones fans might recognise Dunluce Castle as the Castle Greyjoy from the HBO series.There is a bench at the back of the 6th tee at  that used to be a favourite spot of the late, great BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss. He would sit and watch golfers go past, taking in the views. We suggest you take a moment to do the same when you reach this point. The views will take your breath away. When we stopped, the water below was awash with surfers taking on the white horses to race towards White Rocks. The noise of the waves crashing onto the beach is wonderful. To the east, beyond the castle, is the iconic Giant’s Causeway, one of the great natural wonders of the world and a place of pilgrimage for tourists the world over.

    The Giants Causeway
    The Giants Causeway needs no introduction
  3. The sand or lack of

    Royal Lytham & St. Annes has the most sand of any course on The Open rota with 174 revetted pot bunkers. Muirfield has around 150, while The Straits Course at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin has 967 bunkers. And yet none of them has quite the fear factor of The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush, which only has 60 bunkers – by far the fewest of any Open venue. The large and undulating greens are often protected by natural grassy swales rather than a throng of pot bunkers. Royal Portrush is famously penal if you miss the fairway, defending itself not only with some excellent fairway bunkering, but often with thick rough, gorse, blackberry bushes, and, in particular, out of bounds. OB comes into play on the 1st, 2nd, the long 4th, which demands you thread a drive between a fairway bunker and out-of-bounds. There’s also OB on both sides of the 18th fairway. “It’s intimidating— you can see all those white stakes. They stare right at you,” said Henrik Stenson.

    Royal Portrush Golf Club 6th green
    The beautiful 6th green on The Dunluce Links
  4. The variety of the routing

    The genius of Harry Colt’s design of the Dunluce Links is that every single of the 18 holes is laid out in a slightly different direction to the rest. This is no out-and-back routing, there are constant, subtle alterations in the direction of play, which means you can’t allow your concentration to waver for a second, or assume you know from where the wind is blowing. Colt’s design of the Dunluce Links was completed in 1932 and Bernard Darwin, the doyen of golf writers described Colt’s creation in The Times described it as “a monument more enduring than brass.” He added: “altogether I find it hard to imagine a more admirable test of golf.” Amen to that.

    Royal Portrush Golf Club Dunluce Links
    Harry Colt laid out The Dunluce Links in 1929
  5. The big names

    Royal Portrush is a golf club synonymous with the champions of our game and the best players in the world. And if you’re lucky, you might run into one or two when you visit. On the day we pulled up we saw Northern Ireland’s next great hope, Tom McKibbin on the putting green. A little later on, we realise he is playing in the group behind us, relentlessly firing at flag after flag as we glance back at the green we’ve just vacated.It’s no great surprise, Royal Portrush Golf Club is just that kind of place. And it’s not only tour players you’ll find here, but the next generation of them. The story of a 16-year-old Rory McIlroy shooting a course record 61 on the Dunluce, prior to its latest redesign, is the stuff of lore here. Michael Bannon, the professional at Hollywood Golf Club, where Rory grew up said. “I was driving home from work and the golf club phoned me and I thought it was a joke. I did not think anyone could shoot a 61 around Royal Portrush.’

    Darren Clarke lives locally and is an honorary members alongside the likes of McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington. Clarke, who won The Open in 2011, famously paid homage to another Portrush man after lifting the Claret Jug. There is a poster, which is kept at Prestwick Golf Club, home of the first Open Championship – which has been signed by all Champion Golfers of the Year. It gets flown in on the Sunday of The Open from Prestwick and signed shortly after the Claret Jug is raised. When Darren Clarke signed it, he made a point of putting his name right next to that of Fred Daly – another Portrush man, who famously won The Open at Royal Liverpool in 1947.

    Royal Portrush Darren Clarke
    Fred Daly and Darren Clarke, two Portrush locals, both won The Open
  6. The clubhouse at Royal Portrush

    The clubhouse at Royal Portrush Golf Club may not be historic, having been officially opened in 1999, but what it lacks in age it more than makes up for in history. It’s worth taking your time to explore the clubhouse and stop and examine the trophies, photographs and memorabilia that’s draped from every wall – significant moments, significant figures and significant trophies. As you walk in the main entrance, the first trophy cabinet on your right displays the scorecard from Rory McIlroy’s course record of 61. When the late Queen Elizabeth II visited she was fascinated by a photograph which features her father, her grandfather and Sandy Heard here. There is a portrait of Harry Colt, the man who designed the Dunluce Links, as well as a celebration of the two local boys turned Open champions – Darren Clarke and Fred Daly. The honours boards which sits above the main stairwell really is the story of the course, with all the  championships listed alongside each champion.

    Royal Portrush Golf Club 2023
    A look back across towards the 17th fairway
  7. The warmth of the welcome

    Despite the Royal pageantry, the history and the legend. Royal Portrush Golf Club is not stuffy or pretentious and we certainly felt the welcome was warm and genuine. What strikes you is that this a club for golfers, where the common language of golf cuts through above all else. Pop into the pro shop and speak to Gary McNeil, the head professional at Royal Portrush. He knows this place better than most and is great company. If you’re lucky, he might even tell you about the day he played in the 2019 Open Championship here. If you’re lucky, you might run into Gerry Mcaleese, the club historian and multiple club champion – no one on earth know the history of this place better. Walk up the stairs and take in the views from the main bar. You will hear accents from all corners of the world, but particularly from the United States, with Americans some 75% of all overseas visitors.

    Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
    The stunning Causeway Coast. Credit: Nick Kane
  8. The changes in elevation

    We’ve already told you about the dramatic setting Royal Portrush enjoys but another reason this links stands out, are the changes in elevation. Linksland, by definition, is often the relatively flat stuff that connects the coastline or beach with the mainland. That’s certainly the case at a course like Royal Liverpool, which is wonderful in a different way. At Royal Portrush, though, there are some pretty dramatic elevated teas, plunging, tumbling fairways and raised greens too. Why is that significant? Well, it means you not only do you get the humps, bumps and mounds that can often make links golf so special but it means you get views and, as a result, golf shots that are all the more dramatic because of it. The tumbling terrain is, in parts, matched by the wonder of Ballybunion or Lahinch for sheer scale and heaving drama. The 5th tee is a great example, as is the 1st green, 16th green and so many more spots besides. It makes for a really dramatic experience.

  9. The Tavern

    Royal Portrush certainly possesses one of the best links in the world, but it also has an argument for having the best halfway house in golf too. The Tavern, located next to the 10th tee, may appear small from the outside, but walk through the door and you will enter a cosy, fully-stocked bar complete with barman who is waiting to strengthen your courage for the back 9 or simply dull the pain after a brutal front 9. It can also be a good place to shelter when the rain comes down, and boy can it come down in these parts. We sheltered from two enormous downpours during our round, although the weather didn’t seem to worry everyone. They were plenty of groups who didn’t even raise their umbrellas when those biblical downpours hit. I asked them barman at The Tavern why. His answer? “A lot of the overseas visitors come for that. They see it as part of the experience!”

    Portrush Harbour
    Portrush is a charming seaside town. Credit: Derek Lynn
  10. The town

    Portrush is a town which reverberates to the rhythm of golf and although the club sits just east of it, the two are inextricably linked. The original Royal Portrush clubhouse was originally located in the town, in Dunluce Street close to the railway station in 1946, the clubhouse moved to Holyrood House Hotel on Bushmills Road. The arrival of The Dunluce took the links closer to the drama of the coastline and some 1200 yards away from the clubhouse and so it was eventually relocated. But if you’re after a drink post round, there are plenty of other options. Local boy Darren Clarke was once asked what golfers should do after they’d played a round at Royal Portrush. His answer? “Go to the Harbour Bar, drink Guinness, and get drunk. It’s perfect because people are just there to have a pint. And I’m the same as any other guy who walks into the bar. Everybody’s just in to have a drink and bit of a laugh and a bit of craic and then move on.” Famously Clarke visited the bar the morning he arrive home with the Claret Jug in 2011, clutching it under his arm as he walked through the door. Portrush and nearby Portstewart are bustling seaside towns, filled with good people, good places and good times. Bushmills, home of the famous whisky distillery, is charming but you won’t go wrong wherever you stay. The local roads are dramatic and beautiful, just like the course.

Royal Portrush Golf Club scorecard
Royal Portrush Golf Club Scorecard

Royal Portrush Golf Club: Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How do I find out about Royal Portrush Golf Club membership?

Membership at Royal Portrush Golf Club is understandably highly sought after. Rather like Royal Dornoch, there is a huge overseas membership and a waiting list for those who do want to join. If you do want to enquire about membership at Royal Portrush Golf Club then we would recommend you call the office on +44 (0) 28 7082 2311. Or send an email to [email protected]

How much are Royal Portrush Golf Club membership fees?

If you are fortunate to become a member at Royal Portrush then it might be useful to know how much you will be expected to pay upon joining. As with many top clubs across the world, Royal Portrush has a joining fee, as well as an annual fee. In 2023, that was around £2,000 per year, plus a pretty hefty joining fee. For the latest information on membership fees, contact the office at Royal Portrush.

Is the Royal Portrush Golf Club pro shop worth a visit?

The pro shop at Royal Portrush Golf Club is a treasure trove of golf goodies, with branded apparel, accessories and balls and some fantastic photographs displayed on the walls. We would direct you to the two bowls of tees that sit to the left of the counter, where you can help yourself to Royal Portrush branded golf tees.

Which are the best hotels near Royal Portrush Golf Club

There are a number of good hotels near Royal Portrush Golf Club and more being built. Directly across from the entrance to the club is the Golflinks Hotel Portrush, while the Portrush Atlantic Hotel is worthy of a mention. Many guests stay a little further afield at The Bushmills Inn Hotel,  while Belfast and the beautiful Grand Central Hotel is only a little over an hour away.

Where is Royal Portrush Golf Club?

Royal Portrush Golf Club is located in Portrush, County Antrim in Northern Ireland.
It is around 67 miles by road from Belfast to Royal Portrush Golf Club, while Dublin is around 180 miles away.

How much are Royal Portrush Golf Club green fees?

Green fees for Royal Portrush Golf Club will vary depending on the time of year, the day of the week and the time of the day. They will also depend on whether you are a visitor or playing with a member. For the latest information on how much greens fees are for Royal Portrush Golf Club, we would advise you to call +44 (0) 28 7082 2311.

What about the Royal Portrush Golf Club Facebook page?

To stay updated on Royal Portrush Golf Club’s news, events, and announcements, you can check their official Facebook by clicking here.

Royal Portrush Golf Club logo

Royal Portrush Golf Club logo

Royal Portrush golf club mapRoyal Portrush Golf Club Map

The founder of The Wandering Golfers, Ben grew up on the links of Scotland learning the game from his beloved Grandpa. Previously a writer and broadcaster for The Times and BBC

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