PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – The sacrifice the Valley Links made to the Dunluce Links has made oft-underappreciated links at the Royal Portrush Golf Club better.
The Valley Links – also called the Rathmore Golf Club by locals – gave up its fifth and sixth holes in the dunes, so the Dunluce Links could add two new holes in its preparation for The Open Championship in 2019. In response, architect Martin Ebert’s recalibration of the closing stretch of the Valley Links was just the facelift the Valley Links needed to shed its reputation as merely a relief course, especially for women, juniors and average golfers. It created four finishing holes provocative enough to deem the 6,336-yard links a must-play on any golf trip to Northern Ireland.
As the name implies, the Valley Links unfurls in the bottom of a bowl of dunes. Its more mundane holes march parallel to one another – in opposite directions - with a few notable and interesting exceptions along the way (specifically nos. 5, 7, 8).
It's the new heroic shots coming that sends players home feeling satisfied. The new 171-yard 15th hole plays off an elevated tee into a heavy breeze. The 16th hole, the old no. 17, stretched from a par 4 into a 493-yard, dogleg par 5. Another new par 3, the 194-yarder at no. 17, incorporated a green from the Skerries pitch-and-putt course that just happened to be one of the original greens dating to the club’s earliest days. The finale is 333 yards of downwind fun. The elevated tee, overlooking the Irish Sea, feels like a launching pad with the gale at your back. Driving the green isn’t just a possibility. It should be the expectation.