Thursday, August 28, 2008

Royal Portrush – The Valley

How often on some of Ireland’s great courses, do you find a sibling that is often ignored? True, it’s not always so: Carton House has two equal and very different courses, Clandeboye also has different but popular courses and Ballybunion has the remarkable Cashen course. But what about Royal County Down, Portstewart, Lahinch, Powerscourt, Headfort and Royal Portrush? And, if you really want to scrape the barrel, Bodenstown.

The question, of course, is how highly would these ‘second’ courses be regarded if the illustrious ‘big’ course was not there at all?

Having just played Portstewart’s other two courses – Riverside and Old – I now found myself playing the Valley course (also known as Rathmore Golf Club). I imagine lots of people drive into the main clubhouse, only to find themselves redirected down the road to an entrance that seems to imply it is a par three course. But it is here you will find the Valley, and it’s a whole heap of fun. The 1 st is a warm-up act and then it’s guesswork to find the 2nd tee (immediately to the left of the green and up the incline). But after that, the Valley is riveting stuff. The dunes rise up all around you on the perimeter of the course (hence the name), and perhaps the most intimidating sight is seeing the flag flying high on the Dunluce course’s famous 14th – Calamity. You see it for many holes, and you also see the 13th green when you play the Valley’s stunning 5th and 6th (a massive par three of 230 yards).

A number of times before I visited Portrush, I was told that the Valley course was preferred by locals. I can see why. It’s not as tough as the Dunluce, it’s a fifth of the price, yet it has the same excellent quality. And it’s a lot of fun. Afterwards you can sneak back to the big clubhouse and enjoy all the impressive facilities.

In essence the Valley is a lesser sibling but you’d be daft to come here to play Dunluce and not play the Valley. And while Portstewart’s Riverside is a nice course, it’s not a must-play in the same way.

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