The 148th Open Championship will return to Royal Portrush in a few weeks for the first time since 1951. Francesco Molinari conquered the links at Carnoustie last year and will look to defend his title at the beautiful Royal Portrush. I was lucky enough to be invited to play this year's Open Championship venue and it certainly didn't disappoint.
Where is it?
Most of you will know, but for those who don't, Royal Portrush is in Northern Ireland in the town of Portrush, about a one hour drive north of Belfast International Airport.
A few minutes down the road from Royal Portrush is Portstewart Golf Club, another fantastic course with stunning scenery and the famous Giant's Causeway is just a few miles away as well.
I stayed in the Bayview Hotel which was a lovely hotel, with a fantastic restaurant, friendly staff and a view of the coast to wake up to. It was just a ten minute drive from Royal Portrush and I highly recommend the hotel if you're looking for a place to stay.
Royal Portrush has two 18-hole courses, Dunluce and Valley Links. I played Dunluce which is the course where the Open will be played this year.
Due to the timing of my visit, the spectator stands were already up and ready, making my round even more special. Of course there was no one in them watching me, but it was amazing to get a small taste of what the players will have to deal with in just a few weeks time.
Like all links courses, the weather during your round will play a huge factor in its difficulty. I caught a lucky break considering I was in Northern Ireland, there was an expected breeze but the sun was shining and it stayed dry.
Royal Portrush has everything you could ever ask for in a links course. Incredible sea views, deep terrifying bunkers, slopey greens, huge dunes and just a general wow factor.
The dunes around the greens were a personal favourite of mine. You know you're on a proper links course when you're able to putt from 20 yards off of the green and use the slopes to your advantage.
As open as Royal Portrush is, you really don't want to miss the fairways on most holes. The rough is very unforgiving and can leave you in all sorts of trouble.
I recommend not pulling out the driver on every hole (as tempting as that can be) and save it for the longer holes.
One of my favourite holes was the 5th, known as White Rocks. From the tee it doesn't look like it causes too many problems, but that all depends on where your tee shot lands. Luckily this was one of my best drives of the day, straight over the mound leaving just a wedge shot in, but if your tee shot finds the left, this hole suddenly becomes very difficult. But it wasn't the view from the tee that made this hole so special for me, it was the view on the green. A truly stunning view of the sea and the surrounding cliffs made this moment very special for me. That was when I first stood there and realised I was playing one of the best links courses around.
After finishing the 5th hole, you can still soak up the views from the 6th tee, a 185 yard par 3 where I was more than happy to walk away with a par.
The par 5's around Royal Portrush were all about your position off the tee, so don't feel the need to pull the big stick out if you've been a little wobbly with it. Find the fairway, knock your second down there and then enjoy the dunes around the greens. Find the long rough from the tee or one of the huge bunkers (one so big it's known as Big Nelly) and you'll struggle to make a par.
One of the best holes but easily the scariest is the 16th par-3 Calamity Corner. It used to be the 14th hole before the redesign of Royal Portrush and if you get the chance to play it then I guarentee it will be the scariest tee shot you'll ever face.
A long par 3 that played 200 yards when I was there, with a huge cliff drop swallowing anything short. When the Tour players tee off from the championship tees it will easily play about 260 with the wind playing strong into their face. If you find the green from the tee then it should be the highlight of your round, because that is one tee shot that really gets to you.
The 18th hole was one I'll never forget and was a great way to end my experience round Royal Portrush. After bombing my best drive of the day, I didn't expect to have a 4 iron into the green. This hole is LONG when the wind is blowing into your face, so you better hope you have the wind with you on this hole. The Tour players will tee off another 50/60 yards further back than I did, that's when you realise how far these guys hit the ball. A huge grand stand surrounded the green as I was playing the last hole, which holds about 5000 people. I was nervous just seeing the stand with no one in it, let alone when it's at full capacity in a few weeks time.
Royal Portrush was a fantastic experience and a big tick off of the bucket list. It was links golf at its finest and it will be an incredible host for the 148th Open Championship.
Breathtaking views, stunning holes, with a great balance of difficult challenges and rewards throughout the course, Royal Portrush is an experience you'll never forget.