Posted by & filed under Miscellaneous.

After working with Donald Steel for 15 years, Tom Mackenzie and Martin Ebert set up their own design company in 2005 and they now advise on seven of the 10 courses on the Open rota. They have been providing architectural advice to Royal Portrush on both the Dunluce and Valley courses since 2001 when they worked with Steel, while Ebert has overseen the recent changes that include the addition of two new holes, the 7th and 8th, in place of the old 17th and 18th.

So who better than Ebert to ask about this year’s Open venue? National Club Golfer did just that…

Of the seven Open courses – Troon, Lytham, Turnberry, Portrush, St George’s, Carnoustie and Hoylake – that you advise, on where would you most like to be a member purely for the course side of it?

I think I would have to split my membership between Portrush and Turnberry. This year’s venue has so many fun and interesting shots and so many great vistas. The combination of the two is very special.

How would you sum up the changes you’ve made to Portrush?

We always look at the history and aerial photos first of all and there hasn’t been a huge difference in bunker style, unlike Turnberry which was a great find to see how intricate the shapes were in the old days.

At Portrush there wasn’t much difference in the bunkers but they were definitely rougher edged so we made suggestions to go back to that. However, the club preferred to keep the bunkers where they have evolved with their high sand faces, which we were quite happy with as it shows we do different things and aren’t known for adopting the same style everywhere.

However, overall, while the focus will be on the two new holes, there have been a lot of other improvements such as the movement of the 2nd green, the reshaping of the 3rd and 10th greens, the movement of the 12th tees and numerous other smaller tweaks.

Turnberry was rebuilt over a winter. What was the Portrush timescale like?

We started on the Valley Course in August 2014 as we had to make three new holes there to replace the two that were being lost, plus the par-3 18th which did not fit into the revised layout. We started in the summer and put down hollow cores on the new Valley fairways to establish for the following year and then started work on the Dunluce over that winter. We had more time with the two new holes on the Dunluce as we didn’t need to relinquish the old 17th and 18th in any rush.

The club kept those new holes closed for a whole growing season but could have opened them at the end of 2015. Instead, they kept them back until the summer of the following year.

At the start you put together a 72-page proposal for the changes. How close did you end up to that with the finished article?

Pretty close. Generally that happens if we plan a project well enough. There has been the odd bunker that hasn’t gone in – there is one bunker to the left of the new 7th instead of two and one was left out on the 5th.

There are 59 bunkers on the reconfigured course and there were 59 before. We lost a lot on the old 17th and 18th. The low number shows just how good the land form is and it’s the lowest by a long way on the Open courses.

Were the last two holes always a consideration for change?

We actually produced a plan for the old 18th, not for any commission, but when working on other things. This was inspired by a big job at Enniscrone where we livened up their 18th with dune work along both sides of the hole and behind the green and where we put in a new green, so we made a similar proposal for Portrush. So it was a good job that didn’t happen as we would have had to flatten it all again!

The old 17th wasn’t particularly bad. The Big Nellie bunker framed the tee shot from the back tee but it was a bit bland for the second part of the hole. The last was a tough hole but it needed changing from a health and safety point of view with the road close by on the right-hand side.

What would be your three toughest holes?

Obviously it depends on the weather but almost certainly the 11th, which was played as a par 5 in Irish Open but will be a par 4 for The Open. It is such a difficult tee shot between the dunes.

The 18th will be no pushover if it is playing into the wind and could leave a long shot in. The 14th has a new back tee and, with that green perched up there (pictured) and the cavernous bunker on the left, it could play very tough.

How do you keep the members, visitors and R&A all happy?

Before there was any thought of the Open going back to Portrush, the club allowed back tees to be put in but the members didn’t want any more bunkers. Once the Open was a possibility, everything was on the table but we have tried to put bunkers in places affecting elite players off the back tees so they shouldn’t affect the shorter hitters and there has been no tightening of fairways.

The two new holes are arguably more testing than the old 17th and 18th so that has increased the difficulty level.

The members have been great in accepting the disruption and being supportive of the changes. Darren Clarke was involved occasionally during the process and he hit some tee shots at the new 8th, to confirm our design plan of having two fairway bunkers on the right. He has said he’s happy with most of the changes although he is not keen on the blind fairway bunker to the left of the 17th.

Are you pleased with the two new holes?

The two new holes have settled in well and are already part of the landscape. When designing the 7th green, I wanted the player coming up the valley to see at least see some part of the green and was keen to encourage people to take the second shot on and not leave upwards of 150 yards in. So, if the players try to get within 50 or so yards of the green, which comes with some risk, they will have a better chance of finding the right portion of the green.

The 1st green has almost four quadrants to it and so we’ve done something similar to that with the 7th in trying to keep the green in character with what Harry Colt might have done.

Do you have a set yardage in your head when making changes?

No, it’s more a question of looking at each hole and seeing what it needs and achieving a good balance of hole lengths overall. My feeling was that coming in, the 14th was a very short par 4 for the best players, so we added 50-60 yards and that has made a big difference. Otherwise, the finish would have been a short 4, another short 4, Calamity, Purgatory, which could be almost driveable, and then 18. So lengthening 14 was important to ramp up the difficulty on the home stretch.

Posted by & filed under Miscellaneous.

What happens when two club golfers try to take on a selection of legendary shots at Royal Portrush?

Dan Murphy and Mark Townsend from our partner National Club Golfer do exactly that so that you can appreciate the scale of the challenge that awaits the game’s very best players during the 148th Open Championship.

Playing off handicaps of three and eight respectively, our men attempted to take on tasks that are frankly beyond their skillset such as:

  • Playing a delicate 60-yard pitch from a tight lie to a pin hidden behind the shoulder of a sand dune at the 4th, Fred Daly’s
  • Trying to drive the green, some 350 yards away, across the dogleg at the par-4 5th, White Rocks
  • Tackling the long second shot on the new par-5 7th, Curran Point, into the prevailing wind
  • Taking aim at the distant green, 235 yards away across a chasm into the wind, on the par-3 16th, Calamity Corner
  • Trying to save par at Calamity Corner having found Locke’s Hollow from the tee

Watch how they get on attempting these legendary shots at Royal Portrush…

Posted by & filed under Blog, Masters.

He thought he’d never play again. Now Tiger Woods is a Masters champion again. And catching Jack Nicklaus is back on the table, writes Mark Townsend from our partner National Club Golfer.

 

Now go and get Jack’s record

tiger woods jack nicklaus

One day they’ll make a film about this. One day they’ll show a man in his forties having his back fused, his fourth surgery in recent years on this part of his body. One day they’ll show a man sniggered at by all and sundry, they’ll show a man who can no longer chip and, because of his body breaking down, a one-time legend, maybe the best ever, who had to resort to putting out tweets of himself making a series of creaky swings.

Then they’ll show the same man doing what, at one point, not even he could dream of – Tiger Woods, at the age of 43, winning the Masters for a fifth time. The same Woods whose four previous victories here had all come in his twenties out-thinking and out-playing a stellar cast. A host of players all came and went but he stuck it out the longest and the best over the four days.

At one point in the last century they tried to Tiger-proof Augusta National, over 20 years later he was winning here again.

Just over a year ago he was still slowly dipping his toe back in the water – “I didn’t really have a golf swing yet. I was still trying to figure out how to play. My body is so different than it was then, and my equipment is so different than it was then, too, as well, because of my body and because of my swing.”

It’s always worth reiterating that he barely played from August 2015 to the end of 2017 and when he did it was painful viewing on every level. He’s missed three of the past six Masters – he’s often remarked that he’s only travelled to Georgia to take his place at the Champions Dinner. One year he could barely sit properly due to the shooting pains in his leg. In 2020 he’ll be hosting again.

 

The talk before and during the tournament

This year we mumbled about his putting, his neck, the lack of ‘reps’ and his age. Given who we were talking about the buzz was very different about Tiger just six and a bit months on from his Tour Championship win.

Rory was the form horse, Rose was the course specialist and DJ and Brooks were the ones capable of bringing a sodden course to its knees.

Then, on weeks like this, it all comes flooding back as to how off-the-planet a player he really was and still is.

Last year the closing celebrations were a little muted for one reason or another, or just one reason. This time it was maybe the best we’ve ever seen here. The dream, other than simply to be healthy and be able to swing a club again, was to win a big one in front of his kids.

When things settle down a little, which maybe never, how sweet a feeling that will be for the dad of two.

He’s never come from behind to win a major and, for part of the day, we thought Francesco Molinari, who he played with at Carnoustie when the Italian broke through and Woods fell away, would par them all into the ground before striking on the par 5s.

Molinari’s hopes got wet twice and then we had a barrage of young guns thrusting forth but getting over the line is a very different matter. For Woods it had been a day of one step forward and another one back but, like the previous three days, his distance control was always sublime. At the 7th his approach from 146 yards was stone dead, two holes later he hit one of the best lag putts of all time to close out a front nine of 35.

If there is a time to hit your straps it’s the back nine at Augusta and, from the right of 11 onwards, he put his foot down.

 

Tiger’s surge to victory

A 43-year-old man who had to get up at 3.45am to get his mind and body ready for the Sunday showdown was doing what many people of a certain age will never have seen before, timing his run to ruthless perfection. As his closest rivals came unstuck by the gusts at 12, and were heading for the drop zone, Woods played the smart shot to the middle of the green and was heading to the Hogan bridge twirling his putter.

While there was the odd bit of fortune – his driver went through a collection of tree limbs before settling in the middle of the fairway at the next – he then took full advantage.

And from there on he would rely on a power fade off the tee – his ability to shape his irons and a mind and course knowledge is still so sharp that it’s frightening – to pick up three shots in four holes including, having just taken the solo lead at the Masters for the first time since 2005, nearly holing his tee shot at 16. And it could have been even more comfortable with great opportunities slipping by at 14 and 17.

A third bogey of the day added up to a 70 but none of that mattered a bit as golf’s greatest story came to a close.

Cue the credits, the tears, the fist pumps, the back slaps and congratulations from a collection of your peers, past and present, who will all tell their grandchildren that they played in this tournament. The 2019 Masters, the one that Tiger won.

 

The future looks bright

Coming up we’ve got the PGA at Bethpage Black, where he won the US Open by three in 2002, then we’re onto Pebble Beach where he won the 100th US Open by the most ridiculous 15 shots in 2000.

So god knows where we’ll be when Royal Portrush comes around, it’s hard not to let your mind drift to 15 becoming 16 and then even beyond…

When he won the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines on one leg we thought Jack’s 18 majors would be a formality. Eleven years on we’re still thinking the same thing.

Given how this all played out, it was worth the wait.

Posted by & filed under Blog, Masters.

It is the victory many of us thought could never happen. In his darkest moments, Tiger Woods must have felt that way too.

Fourteen years since his last Green Jacket, 11 since his last major title – No. 15 has improbably arrived for the greatest player of all time after a dramatic final round at the Masters.

For there can surely now be no doubt to his status as the best to have ever played the game.

Yes, Jack’s got 18 majors and who is to say that Tiger can’t now bear down on that record with renewed determination.

It wasn’t much more than 18 months ago, though, that the 43-year-old didn’t know if he’d even be able to play a few holes with his kids.

So stricken had he been with back pain, a constant agony that required his spine to be fused, that he couldn’t sit in a buggy without discomfort.

Now, he has a fifth victory at Augusta National.

Where the Masters was won

Francesco Molinari gave him the opening. The Italian had been almost robotic over the first three days – cool and unflappable.

It’s a cliché to say the Masters only begins on the back nine on Sunday but it couldn’t have been truer today.

Standing with a two shot lead on the 12th, on the hole that’s sunk so many Augusta dreams over the years, Molinari found the water and his lead was gone.

Worse was to come for the Open champion.

He clipped the branches of the trees on his approach on the 15th, met a watery grave once again, and his challenge was at an end.

One by one they stepped up to make their claims: Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson. At one point down the stretch they all hit the summit. A surging Bubba Watson was just behind.

But wearing that iconic red shirt and black trousers, the uniform that was the symbol of so much glory, Tiger looked like he’d stepped straight out of 2005. It brought back so many evocative memories.

And as he played those pivotal closing holes on this most famous of courses, it was absolute vintage.

As in the third round, he had his share of fortune. The tee shot at 13 took too much off the left and somehow found its way through a dozen trees to make the fairway.

The approach, though, was precision – as it was at 15 where Molinari’s nightmare, and Woods’ birdie, pushed him into the sole lead.

 

The dramatic finale

Then came the moment at 16. An arrow of an iron, the perfect spot on the green, and the delicious few seconds where the ball trickled down to the hole.

Another birdie and, with the pressure racheting and the moment at hand, he striped his drive down 17 and threw a dart onto the green.

There were nerves on the last, an approach that left a tricky chip but was handled with relative aplomb as he putted out for a 70, a 13-under total and a one shot win over DJ, Schauffele and Koepka.

There was unbridled joy at the finish – a reaction the like of which we have never seen from Tiger on a golf course.

And that’s as it should be, for this achievement was monumental – a victory that will surely be remembered as one of sport’s greatest revivals.

Tiger is back.

 

This article is courtesy of our partner National Club Golfer.