In February 2007, three friends and I came up to Northern Ireland to play Royal County Down, Royal Portrush and Portstewart. We played in short sleeves and beautiful weather – Mike, our American friend, ws imploring us to take photographs because he knew that none of his pals back home would believe it. And here I was, back at Portstewart to sample the delights of the Riverside and Old courses in August. In the pouring rain. I chatted to the barman who said his favourite trick was to walk past the Americans outside the clubhouse, sheltering from the rain, and say, “You picked a bad time to come in the middle of our hurricane season.”
Considering just how bad the wind and rain have been recently, maybe that’s not as funny as it sounds.
I remember back in February, thinking that Portstewart could do with revamping the clubhouse. Well, they’ve gone one better and built a brand new one which will, coincidentally, be open in February next year. And it looks enormous. The old clubhouse, a little worn around the edges, will make way for a car park.
The three courses at Portstewart are utterly different. The opening 9 of the Strand course may well be the best in Ireland, and the 1st hole is a stunning opening gambit, with the beach and Mussenden Temple shown off in all their beauty. Last year we played it twice in one day and as you come around onto the 5th tee you get a good look at the Riverside course. It’s not nearly as impressive, but it has its merits and appeals to a different audience entirely.
My trip around the course was a wet one, and the sun only came out when I was in the clubhouse.
The Old course is the original track and is well removed from the other two courses. This is a par 64 holiday course with a brilliant opening salvo rocketing over small dunes right beside the rocky seashore. And if you look closely you might find a few flattened tourists/walkers who don’t realise that standing still beside a green, to eat sandwiches, is likely to result in a hard, round, white object hitting you at an impressively fast pace. Yes, there are paths to walk along, but pay attention people.
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