Darren Clarke grew up thinking he'd never see The Open return to Royal Portrush. Mark Townsend sat down with the Northern Irishman
What was your role in the changes?
Martin and I drove around the course on my cart on one cold mid-January day and he said: “I’m going to put a bunker in there and one there.” He explained all the changes and 99.9% of them I thought were wonderful ideas.
I suggested adding a bunker at the 8th, Martin only had one bunker in there and one didn’t look enough. You are looking at them to be aiming points as it’s a right-to-left slight dogleg, one more would add to the hole and not weaken it.
What did you have differing opinions on?
We talked about a bunker over the top of the hill at the 17th, Purgatory, which was previously the 15th on the left and I’ve never been a fan of blind hazards but he wanted one in there. When driving in the right conditions the chute is so narrow so I don’t see the need for the extra bunker.
The new 7th green looks quite funky?
It’s on the edge. It has lots of slopes and lots of small areas. It doesn’t quite have the feel of the rest of the course.
Is it on a par with the 17th green at Birkdale?
Hmm (laughs), next question.
How pleased are you that they have stuck to the Colt ethos?
I think it’s brilliant. Would you go in and repaint a Van Gogh and change all the colours? No. Would you touch up the Mona Lisa? No.
You would try to enhance it but keeping things the same which is what Martin has successfully done, he’s a big Harry Colt fan himself.
It is more difficult to introduce a fantastic, subtle upgrade rather than to go in and put your signature all over it and making a mess of it.
Can you predict the weather in Portrush in July?
It could either be wonderful or raining or blowing 30mph or balmy. Or we could have four days of all of those.
Inclement would be nice. Breezy and 20mph would be enough to defend things. If it’s calm they’ll go at the flags. When Jamie Donaldson shot 18-under that was prior to the changes and the rough wasn’t up.
Where would you rank Portrush on the Open rota for you?
Up there at the very top. Prior to Portrush joining the rota I would go with St Andrews because of the tradition, then it’s hard to list them but Birkdale is always one of my favourites.
How do the think Portush will be viewed on the Sunday night of The Open?
A lot will come away thinking right up at the very top, I would be amazed if guys who play it for the first time aren’t completely taken by it.
Does any shot spring to mind for a career Mulligan there?
None. I have a contentment about the place, I’ve always enjoyed the course, it is different every day. A small change in the angle of the wind makes the hole completely different. It’s not nine out and nine in so any wind change makes a huge difference.
Can you believe The Open will be played at Portrush?
The course has always been good enough but, growing up in middle of the Troubles, we didn’t have many sporting events come to Northern Ireland.
Nobody would think an event of this magnitude would come here. The pictures will be incredible.
How do you think you will you be?
Quite nervous, I know the course that well but I’m just so proud to have The Open back there for the first time since 1951. The work that the secretary Wilma Erskine has done along with Arlene Foster and Peter Dawson to get the biggest and best golf tournament here is a fantastic achievement.
Rory, G-Mac, Padraig and myself all made the case for Portrush but the R&A is bigger than all of us and it’s still up to them.
If you had a fourball voucher for Portrush who would you take?
Just my mates. One is a plumber, one is a handyman, one is an electrician and the other a policeman. They can rip me all the way round and then we’ll go for a gallon of Guinness afterwards.
We negotiate shots all the time depending on where the tees are and how good the greens are and usually I don’t give them enough shots which is fine because I can’t let them win.
Darren Clarke was speaking to NCG as an ambassador for Loch Lomond Whiskies. Clarke will help create The Open Course Collection: Royal Portrush Edition which will be a 19-year old Single Malt and will go on sale in early 2019. Visit Loch Lomond Whiskies’ website for more information.