Tournaments

The Open Championship has (finally) returned to Royal Portrush, but its quest back was not so simple

The 590-yard, par-5 seventh is new to Portrush’s reconfigured Dunluce course. The hole was nicked from the nearby Valley Links, Dunluce’s sister track.

Graeme McDowell grew up in the tiny town of Portrush, on the northern tip of the Irish island. Like many before him, he came to America chasing a dream. In his case it was golf glory, which led McDowell to matriculate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He was baffled by more than just the accents and the cuisine. “I was overwhelmed by the patriotism,” McDowell says. “You go to a football or basketball game and it’s in the air, it’s part of the ritual. Even now having lived in the States for a long time, I still can get overwhelmed by it. I’ve never been patriotic because it’s very hard to be proud of where I grew up.”

This has nothing to do with Portrush itself, which boasts gorgeous coastal views, a charming downtown and one of the most awe-inspiring golf courses in the world, the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush. It was good enough to host the 1951 Open Championship, the first time the event had left Scotland or England. Royal Portrush should have become a fabled part of the rota, but beginning in the late 1960s all of Northern Ireland was engulfed in the civil war which came to be known euphemistically as the Troubles. The roots of the conflict dated back centuries, but the modern violence was fueled by a toxic mix of nationalism, religion and partisan politics. The Troubles simmered for three decades, pitting neighbor against neighbor and leading to more than 50,000 casualties and 3,500 deaths, often from indiscriminate bombings and deeply personal doorstep shootings. This was the Northern Ireland of McDowell’s youth.

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