Royal Portrush certainly registers on most golfers' radar, as the iconic Northern Ireland layout routinely ranks high on many lists of the world's top-100 courses.
The scenery, however, remains a bit of a mystery, most likely because the course hasn't hosted the Open Championship since 1951. With the oldest major returning to the island, the gorgeous setting is about to blow viewers away.
Rory McIlroy is very familiar with the area, as the Ulsterman grew up about an hour from Royal Portrush, and he's synonymous with the course thanks to a brilliant day in 2005. The then-16-year-old scorched the layout for an incredible round of 61, a score that's held up as the course record. McIlroy is among the favorites for any tournament, but his history in Northern Ireland adds to his appeal this week.
The event will be conducted on the Dunluce Links layout at Royal Portrush, and the course will feature a few changes from the last time it held The Open. The traditional 17th and 18th holes have been swapped out for two brand-new holes along the coast that will play as the seventh and eighth. That pushes the remaining holes back, and the 16th - a hole now playing as the final challenge - is highlighted by a natural amphitheater surrounding the green.
"I like all of the changes," 2011 Open champion and Portrush member Darren Clarke told Alan Shipnuck of Golf.com. "It's like a jewel that has been given a polishing."
Clarke wasn't the only one raving about the setup ahead of this week, as Padraig Harrington set some lofty expectations for the event's return to Northern Ireland.
"I think it will be one of the most thrilling Opens we've ever seen," Harrington told Shipnuck. "There are holes there that are very gettable, but there are other places it can get you back."
While all the holes on the historic track are memorable, these five will play a pivotal part in deciding who hoists the Claret Jug on Sunday evening.
Fourth hole: Fred Daly's
Named after Fred Daly, the Portrush native and 1947 Open champion, the 482-yard par 4 is a stiff smack in the face after the opening three holes. Playing toward the Atlantic, the wind is often blowing toward the players, making this hole even longer than its listed yardage. A quartet of fairway bunkers and the out of bounds to the right awaits the difficult tee shot, and a tricky putting surface makes the finish just as tough as the beginning.
Fifth hole: White Rocks
Even if a player scores poorly on the fifth hole, it's tough to consider it anything but a pleasant experience due to the stunning backdrop behind the green. After the stern test of the fourth, this short par 4 offers a respite that most players will expect to birdie. That's doable, but a stiff wind off the Atlantic could make this one play much tougher.
Eighth hole: Dunluce
The course's second new hole gives players a choice off the tee when attacking this 434-yard par 4: going with a driver to clear the bunkers, or laying back short. The decision will lead to two very different approach shots. If the hole plays downwind, a driver-wedge combo could offer a strong look for birdie. If the wind blows against the players, this hole could be a beast, albeit one with unbelievable cliff views in the background.
16th hole: Calamity
The signature hole at Portrush is this 236-yard par 3 that's aptly named for the trouble it can present. As the above photo shows, bogey might be an accomplishment after hitting right of the green, and the short-left landing zone is sure to collect many shots off the tee.
17th hole: Purgatory
If players can navigate the treacherous 16th, the 408-yard, par-4 17th hole offers a celebration of sorts with a birdie opportunity. Bigger hitters could reach the green off the tee, with a well-played shot likely landing on the downslope. Just stay out of the pot bunkers that border the green on either side.