By Nick Edmund
Too long in the shadow of its northern neighbors, this renovated links has earned another look
The country of Northern Ireland is smaller than the state of Connecticut, and yet in recent years has produced three major champions: Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, and, of course, Rory McIlroy. It can also boast three genuinely world- class links golf courses: the shatteringly beautiful Royal County Down at Newcastle, Royal Portrush—which in 2019 will stage the Open Championship—and Portstewart, Portrush’s near neighbor on the country’s fabled (Giant’s) Causeway Coast.
A golf writer would have been chastised a few decades ago for mentioning Portstewart in the same breath as County Down and Portrush, but then that was before the club built seven new holes behind the first green deep in the midst of some spectacularly high roller-coasting duneland.
Until the late 1980s, century-old Portstewart’s most celebrated hole was its opener, a dramatically downhill, doglegging par four played to an amphitheater green. But now, a series of impressively designed, visually stunning, and heroically fashioned holes lie in wait.
In 2014, Portstewart hosted the British Amateur Championship along with Royal Portrush and, earlier this summer, the best golfers on the European Tour together with a number of international stars (not to mention 100,000 spectators) descended on the links for what had been a very eagerly anticipated Irish Open. In true Celtic links style, the weather proved to be quite mixed, but almost to a man the players showered the course with accolades and, in keeping with its pedigree and geography, a future giant of the game, Spaniard Jon Rahm, stormed to a six-stroke victory.