All calm at Calamity before the Portrush storm begins
The course’s 236-yard par three 16th is dazzling and dastardly in equal measure
Bryson DeChambeau tees off from the 16th at Portrush during practice on Monday. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty
Calamity by definition translates as ‘an event causing great and often sudden damage or distress, a disaster.’ On a sunny Tuesday afternoon the devilish 236-yard par three, 16th that carries the moniker on the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush, seems incongruous with its reputation as a card wrecker; benign in appearance with barely a zephyr to cloud club calculations on the tee box.
The grandstand behind the green offers not just a panoramic view of the hole but of the links, the North Atlantic Ocean, the Donegal Mountains, the town of Portrush and neighbouring Portstewart. Spectators filter in an out, most content to watch for half an hour before vacating seats quickly filled by new arrivals.
Noise levels decrease appreciably when groups are spotted on the tee box, most staring off into the middle distance to pick up the ball flight. Applause is sporadic which in itself tells a story. Even on a practice day with zero pressure ‘Calamity’ triumphs seven and six.
A succession of golfers discover that even in the most temperate conditions, the par three is not to be trifled with as few find the putting green. Even those that do, with the honourable exception of Thailand’s Prom Meesawat, affectionately known as ‘the Big Dolphin’ because of his physique, whose tee shot comes to rest about seven feet from the pin, are in lag putt territory.
The pin is cut about eight paces from on and nine in from the right for what constitutes a long iron or wood in more blustery conditions to an elevated green. Portrush’s professional Gary McNeill explained: “It is one of the highest holes on the course, so the views are spectacular but if the wind gets up then it will be so hard to putt from, let alone shoot from the tee.”
Don’t miss right as a cavernous fescue ravine awaits an errant strike. Don’t miss left, for even the potential sanctuary of ‘Locke’s Hollow’ is certainly not a gimme in guaranteeing a par.
The grassy swale was named after the South African Bobby Locke, who in each of his four rounds in the 1951 British Open at Royal Portrush deliberately aimed left; he got up and down on each occasion. Every golfer that came through during 90-minutes viewing dropped half a dozen balls into the hollow, employing both a wedge and a putter.
Those that missed to green right and disappeared from view to reclaim golf balls elected not to play from the fescue. One by one as the groups trundled through for over an hour, the golfers and caddies observed the same regimen.
White metal discs with the circumference of a golf hole were flung to various parts of the putting surface as players made educated guesses as to likely pin positions; replaced by tees when chipping practice was required.
Perhaps the most difficult assignment during that time fell to Darlington’s Andrew Wilson, who came through final qualifying at Holliwell and is a member of the EuroPro tour, his ball coming to rest on top of a grassy knoll, 15 yards short of the green and about 10 feet above it. It was a decent lie.
There was a murmur of anticipation as the grandstand anticipated the prospect of some short game wizardry. Wilson though wasn’t about to risk coming a cropper with an audience in situ and indicated for his caddie to pick up the ball, busying himself instead in Locke’s Hollow.
Undoubtedly the highlight was the ball skills shown Mauricio Molina, caddie to this season’s BMW International Open winner, Italy’s Andrea Pavan, who much to the delight of the onlookers, treated the crowd to some ‘keepie-uppies’ with a golf ball as he walked across green; he’d already enjoyed a few sneaky putts.
It’s not the first time that the Italian caddie has wowed golf fans with his soccer prowess; a clip of his ‘soccer tekkers’ went viral during the European Tour’s Belgian Knockout tournament in Antwerp. So a little bit of everything at ‘Calamity’ with the prospect of much more entertainment to come, albeit less frivolous come Thursday.