Friday, July 24, 2015

Portstewart Leads The Way

Portstewart's 6th hole
Now that’s a golf hole.” Jeff was walking off the green, shaking his head but the proud owner of a par. “Everything about it is fantastic.”

Which Irish golf hole are we talking about? The par three 6th at Portstewart. Who was giving their verdict? Jeff Wallach, Editor of The Grain golf magazine

Several American golf writers are currently on tour across the Wild Atlantic Way… even if they did start at Portstewart. And it’s
probably not the best place to start after 17 hours of flying.

It’s not exactly somewhere you’d want to play as your ‘warm up’ course, is it?” After flying in from Oregon, Jeff had found himself in the heavy rough on the par four 2nd. One thing you quickly learn about Portstewart is that it's fairway or heavy rough. There's no in-between. 
Portstewart's par four 2nd hole - heading in
to 'God's Own Country'.
The views of any golfing visitor fascinate me: which holes raise excitement, which raise hackles? Where do they struggle and thrive? How do they handle links greens? Where do they stop and just go ‘wow’ and which course becomes their favourite? As these are golf writers, who have played all types of courses around the world, their views (and reviews) should send hundreds/thousands of American golfers our way.

There’s no question that Portstewart's 6th is one of the best short holes in the country. If you’re not on the putting surface, you better pray you’re in one of the bunkers… because if not, you’re 30 yards down the slopes with a terrifying recovery shot.
Slopes around the 6th green at Portstewart.
The third member of our group, Bob, was not having much fun. Like me, we had both failed in our recovery shot attempts on 6… and scratching a hole this good leaves a nasty itch. Bob Gillespie is from South Carolina, but he’d flown in from Edinburgh after the first three days of The Open, and was using clubs that weren’t his own. They’re mine. I played with Bob in Carne, two years back, and to save him lugging clubs from the US to Scotland to Ireland to the US, I offered to bring a set, and a bag, and some balls. Yep, Portstewart is definitely not a warm up course. Bob had… misplaced… half a dozen balls by the end of the round. To compensate, he also had one of the most memorable birdies he may ever make, on the par five 7th. He rattled in a 30 foot putt after three solid shots to reach the green. As already mentioned – if you find the rough, almost anywhere, par vanishes very quickly, and the tee shot on 7 is one of the toughest. Bob had played the percentages and found only fairway.

We finished in a downpour, before retiring to Harry's Shack immediately below the clubhouse and on the beach. You might not think it's anything special as you pass it on a road that leads only to the beach... but you'd be wrong. People rave about the place and for good reason.

The par three 2nd. Some 190 yards. (Impressive tee shot from
someone behind)
The writers are heading west, playing Portstewart, Ballyliffin (Glashedy), Portsalon, Rosapenna (Sandy Hills), Donegal and County Sligo. Three of the guys are then heading on to Carne, before making a mad dash back to Dublin to connect with their flight to the US.

Honestly, if you could pick the ‘warm up’ course out of that lot, which one would it be? Probably County Sligo. There’s more room to play and the 'first cut' of rough is a touch more generous. Playing two of Pat Ruddy’s masterpieces (Glashedy and Sandy Hills) may, however, be a touch of sadism on the part of the tourism board. Neither is easy and Sandy Hills is probably the toughest course on the island. Then again, the locations make up for it… as long as you’re not searching for balls on every shot – a very real possibility at Sandy Hills.
Jeff sneaks a shot of whisky (not even whiskEy) on the 4th green.
I have two questions for the guys: which is your favourite course of the week… and how many balls will I get back from Bob?

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