NEW YORK, NY. After staging for just the second time an Open Championship played outside of Scotland England, the 148th rendition played on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush produced an event that clearly exceeded even the most optimistic projections.
The event was a complete sellout and The Claret Jug was bestowed upon an Irish golfer — Shane Lowry — for just the 5th time in the grand event’s history.
Architect Martin Ebert played a pivotal role with this year’s event. The original layout was altered in order to provide adequate size and location for The Open village. In addition, Ebert created two “new” holes from the adjoining Valley Course. The 7th and 8th holes respectively, played in the natural dunes which the Dunluce Links is situated.
Player comments were effusive in their praise for a layout that demonstrated the capacity to yield low scores — Lowry 63 in the third round — or high scores — the woeful 87 shot by contender J.B. Holmes in the final round.
Ebert was sought out to provide comments on his impressions for what will likely be long remembered until the next time The Open returns — which is likely to happen and could be as soon as 2024.
How would you characterize how the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush fared during the 148th Open Championship?
I think that it fared very well. Shane Lowry’s winning score was a low one but, apart from the last round, the conditions were probably as good as could be expected at Portrush with greens slightly softened by the heavy rain in the lead up to the event and low winds.
What fascinated me was the different strategies adopted for so many of the holes and the excitement to see what would happen when an aggressive approach was taken. The 1st was a case in point with a real variation of driver or lay up adopted. The out of bounds will, no doubt, continue to be talked about for some time but it certainly added some spice to those 1st tee shots!
The 5th was so much fun to watch with the green being reachable but such difficult shots left to the green from pushed tee shots. A diagonally angled green, steep bank along the right and out of bounds behind the green made this position Z. Even the 18th saw drivers and irons which, for a long par 4, led to a real variation in length of approach shots.
Give your assessment of the two “new” holes you created for the event with the 7th and 8th respectively?
The 7th seemed to be enjoyed by the spectators. Big Nellie was definitely in play although, on the Saturday, the wind was slightly behind and the marshal at the tee told me that everyone was managing to carry it. The next player up was Emiliano Grillo who hit is straight in! David Duval may not be naming it as his favorite hole but it showed that big scores as well as low ones were possible.
A lot of the players were taking the 8th on, leaving very short shots in when they hit the fairway but I look forward to seeing the shot scatter plans to see how the whole field played it and what the scores were for the different approaches.
How do you and the R&A go about the process in reviewing the events that unfolded regarding the course during the event?
I will be having a meeting at Portrush at some stage to review the infrastructure aspects of the event to see where improvements can be made. I will also be looking at the shot scatter plans when available to see how the holes played. I am sure at some point we will be reviewing the playing characteristics of the individual holes and the whole course too.
Were there any concerns on how the par-5’s fared as a whole?
The 2nd played the easiest I think despite us moving the green back but it played downwind for much of the time. However, seeing John Rahm come to grief with the putter on the left green surrounds made me think it was a good decision not to put in a bunker at the front left as was originally planned!
The 7th took its prisoners as well as yielding low scores.
The 12th was helped when it was into the wind but I heard that a lot of players ended up in the stream to the right of the green so it will be interesting to see the detail of how the scoring was overall.
There’s been ongoing speculation that given how pleased people were with the event that a return in ’24 is certainly possible. Your comments on this.
I have absolutely no idea.
Did you happen to talk to any of the players concerning the course? Can you point out any by name and their comments?
They were too busy focusing on their games and I seemed to be rather busy as well!
Looking back – if given a mulligan — would you have done anything differently regarding the steps you followed and how the layout was prepared for the championship?
There are a couple of ideas but I would prefer to keep them under wraps for the time being!