British Open: Why the Three Ulster Champions Are so Good

Stan MeihausContributor IJuly 18, 2011

British Open: Why the Three Ulster Champions Are so Good

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    Darren Clarke hails from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, in an area commonly called Ulster by the Irish and the British.  

    Ulster used to be defined simply as the tribe that ruled the northern part of Ireland. 

    Now, more specifically, it consists of six counties in Northern Ireland (Antrim, Arnagh, Down, Fermagh, Londonderry and Tyrone) and three in the Republic of Ireland (Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan).  

Rory McIlroy, the Current U.S. Open Champion, Is Also from Ulster

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    Current U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy also hails from Ulster, from a small town in County Down.  

    Ireland is actually two separate countries: the Republic of Ireland, mostly in the south, is in the European Union and uses the Euro for currency.  

    Northern Ireland is part of Great Britain and uses the British pound sterling.  

    It is a tiny island; you can drive from Cork in the south to Barrycastle in the north in about six hours.  

As Is Graeme McDowell, Last Year's U.S. Open Champion!

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    Graeme McDowell is from County Atrim in Northern Ireland, an Ulsterman through-and-through.

    His game exploded onto the world stage last year when he won the 2010 U.S. Open.  

    Since all of Ireland has about 4 million people, and not even 2 million of them live in Ulster, you might think it's something in the water that produces golf champions.  

    It's not.  It's the golf courses.  

    Here are five of the most difficult.

5. International Club, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

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    Within an hour's drive of any of their homes, the Ulstermen can play some of the toughest golf courses on the planet.  

    Because of the Irish civil war ("The Troubles," as they say in Ireland), many of these gems are only now becoming known to golfers outside Ireland.

    I had the privilege a few years ago of traveling through Ulster and Ireland and playing some of these fantastic golf courses.  This is the first hole at The International Club in Dublin.  

    The fairway is generous by Irish standards.

4. Portmarnock, County Dublin, Republic of Ireland

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    This is the first hole at Portmarnock, and that's about as easy as it gets.  

    The last four holes on the back are all monsters.  

    The Irish and Canadian Opens and the amateur Walker Cup have all been played here.

    The course is situated on a peninsula that juts out into the Irish Sea, but don't let that fool you—there is plenty of grass to get lost in.

3. Portstewart, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland

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    This is a tough puppy, also along the Irish Sea just north of the famous Giant’s Causeway.

    Fairways are narrow, greens are small and hard, and the wind will change direction several times during the round.

2. Royal County Down, County Down, Northern Ireland

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    This course has been ranked the No.1 International Course by several golf publications and is a perennial Top 10 worldwide. 

    Too many international events have been played here to name. 

    The wind gusts, the heather beckons. And no, you cannot hit your ball out of that. 

    “Might ought to hit a provisional, sir,” is a phrase you will hear often from your caddie.  Par the finishing par five, and you should be drinking free after the round.

1. Royal Portrush, County Atrim, Northern Ireland

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    The hardest golf course I've ever set foot upon.  

    The wind shrieks off the North Atlantic, usually bringing a fine cold mist with it.  There is about five feet of fairway on each hole, then a yard or two of first-cut rough, and then sheepshead grass so thick you could break your wrist trying to swing through it.

    Downwind holes are the worst; on this simple little par four pictured here, everyone in my group hit the ball over the green, down past those bulkheads and into the ocean, out of bounds.  With a wedge.  

    Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, and Rory McIlroy are all members.  You want to know why they are so good?  

    If you can play here, you can play ANYWHERE.