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Royal Portrush


The closing holes with Gary McNeill

The closing holes at Royal Portrush

There are few events in sport quite like Championship Sunday at The Open, where the field battle to be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year.

But any players wishing for a comfortable stroll to the clubhouse is in for a rude awakening at Royal Portrush, where the finishing three holes will test temperament and skill-set alike.

The Dunluce course had undergone major surgery with the old 17th and 18th holes removed and two new and spectacular holes built into the valley.

And that has left three very different, yet thrilling holes to finish. This is where the Claret Jug will be won and lost.

The 16th - Calamity

This hole is called Calamity for a reason and for a comparison of how hard this 16th is, fans should rewind their memories to Carnoustie – where the 16th was also a brutally tough par three.

At the top of the course, the tee shot will be exposed to the full force of the Atlantic winds.

Thankfully there are no bunkers but in truth they are not really required. A deep ravine moves along the entire right-hand side of the hole, making this perhaps the toughest tee shot on the course.

Bobby Locke was so terrified of missing right that he bailed out left of the green in every round during The Open of 1951. He made par each time. Any player who does that this year will be delighted.

Gary McNeill, the Head Professional at Royal Portrush said: “The name says it all. The tee shot is slightly up hill and once again the green sits above you. Anything that does not quite make it up there will fall back down off the front.

“But across is that big and spectacular ravine on the right-hand side. A lot of players will want to naturally go left and the one area of respite if you miss the green is a hollow to the left, which is known as Bobby Locke’s hollow.

“He arrived here in 1951, took one look at this hole and decided he would play there each day.

“It is one of the highest holes on the course, so the views are spectacular but if the wind gets up then it will be so hard to putt from, let alone shoot from the tee.” Gary McNeill, Head professional at Royal portrush
Royal Portrush 16th hole from above

An aerial view of the last of four par 3's on the Dunluce Links

“It is immense and one of the most famous par-threes around. There will be some drama there.” Gary McNeill, Head Professional at Royal Portrush

The 17th – Purgatory

Decisions. Decisions. Watching how players attack this hole will be fascinating and crucial to the destination of the Claret Jug.

Despite being just over 400 yards in length, the par-four 17th is very much a risk and reward hole. Drive it 300 yards and the dramatic down slope with catch the ball and carry it down towards the green.

But with bunkers left and thick rough to the right, anything that’s not gun-barrel straight will be punished.

The Pro’s tip: Gary McNeill tries to get into the mind of the players during Open week: “Do you play safely to the top of the hill and take an iron from there, or do you go for it and take the hole on? That answer to that could decide this Championship.

“It is a tricky green when you get there. It is quite undulated and so depending on where the pin is, it can be quite difficult to get close with the second shot."

“The reward of a well-struck tee shot is you will be down 20 or 30 yards from the green. Those chasing the Claret Jug will be tempted and anyone in the lead could be under pressure to do the same.” Gary McNeill, head professional at royal portrush
Royal Portrush 17th hole green entrance

Risk and Reward: Players will be faced with a narrow entrance to the 17th green

“It is purely risk and reward. It could be a two-shot swing there.” Gary mcneill, head professional at royal portrush
Portrush with town in background

The final hole at Royal Portrush from afar

The 18th – Babington's

With the grandstand bursting at the seams, the final hole will be spectacular. But getting to the green safely is far from easy.

The par-four 18th has been lengthened, increasing the likelihood of a driver being required from the tee. Land it safely in the fairway and the second shot presents an even bigger challenge, with the out of bounds close on the left while two bunkers 40 yards short of the green offer a false impression of the distance to the green.

Players could be hitting their second shot straight into the wind – not the easiest proposition for the final long shot of the day.

Gary McNeill advises that “from the tee, there are a couple of bunkers on the right-hand side but players will want to go left into the fairway so they can get a view of the green with their second shot.

“It is a great second shot. The green sits slightly sideways on, anything to the left will roll down the hill and off and I expect a lot of action down there.

“It is a fairly generous green, quite a long one. It is 45 yards long and I don’t think the bunkers will trouble too many players.

“The second shot is all about getting the yardage right and being in the right section of a tough green. Depending on the wind, it could well be a strong drive and then mid-iron.”

“It is a tough finishing hole.” Gary McNeill, Head Professional at Royal Portrush