This is a week when it’s abundantly apparent that there’s much more to golf at the highest levels than events that the PGA Tour and the United States Golf Association conduct. Golf enthusiasts in North America should think about following the Irish Open at Royal Portrush’s truly awesome Dunluce links, and the British Ladies Amateur at Carnoustie’s treacherous links in Scotland. Each tournament starts Thursday.
Royal Portrush is in Portrush, Northern Ireland. The Irish Open hasn’t been played there since 1953, and the Open Championship has been played there only once, in 1951 when Englishman Max Faulkner won. It’s long past time that the Irish Open should be held at Portrush, where golf has been played since 1888, and upon whose heaving ground Harry Colt designed the Dunluce links in 1929.
The field at the Irish Open, which Golf Channel will televise, includes 10 major champions. This group includes Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, all from Northern Ireland. McDowell and Clarke are honorary members at Royal Portrush. Clarke pretty well grew up at the links. Padraig Harrington, the Irishman who has won three majors, including an Open Championship, is also in the strong field.
This isn’t to say that the field for the AT&T National that begins Thursday at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., is weak. Eleven major champions, including U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, are at Congressional, where McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open by eight shots. Tiger Woods plays host to the tournament and is playing. Congressional is playing firm and fast, which it didn’t when McIlroy won.
But it’s no Portrush, nor could it be. It’s a parkland course. And it’s unlikely that the atmosphere at Congressional will be anything like as spirited as at Portrush, where there’s been tremendous interest in the Irish Open since it was announced last January that the tournament would be held there.
Meanwhile, there’s also the British Ladies Amateur at Carnoustie, the same links on which Harrington defeated Sergio Garcia in their four-hole playoff to win the 2007 Open Championship. As an aside, it’s worth noting that the Ladies Golf Union, which conducts the Amateur, has had it at Royal Portrush nine times since 1895, including last year. It’s also worth noting that Marlene Stewart Streit, then Marlene Stewart, won the 1953 British Ladies Amateur at Royal Porthcawl in Wales. Canada’s only member of the World Golf Hall of Fame was 19 when she took what remains a major championship in women’s amateur golf.
One qualifying round for the match-play tournament was held Tuesday at Carnoustie. A second will be played Wednesday. Six Team Canada members are in the qualifying rounds, from which the low 64 golfers will go through to match play. The leading threesome after play Tuesday was Christine Wong of Richmond B.C., tied for 11th, Jisoo Keel of Coquitlam, B.C., tied for 14th, and 14-year-old Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., tied for 22th.
The tournaments at Portrush and Carnoustie will showcase two of the most fearsome links in the world. One could go back and forth all day in a debate as to which provides the sterner test. One thing is certain: Both courses will expose any weaknesses in a player’s game. It will be interesting to see whether McIlroy, who has said he prefers parkland courses à la Congressional even though he grew up in Northern Ireland, can adjust and control his ball should the wind play a part.
Carnoustie is on the Open Championship rotation, and Portrush should be. Officials of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which conducts the Open, will be watching the Irish Open carefully for the test it provides and how it handles the 100,000 spectators expected. Portrush deserves another Open, besides the Irish Open.
As for this week, it can’t get much better than big tournaments at Portrush and Carnoustie. Congressional and the AT&T National? Yawn, by comparison.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein