Golf has many features that mark it out as a unique sport. One of the main things that separates it is the association that the best players in the world have with the clubs upon which they first learned their trade. You see, every golfer remembers their first course. You don’t struggle to conjure up memories of first tee nerves at junior medals or monthly medals if you took the sport up later.
It is, then, no surprise that the pros tend to stay close to the clubs that they grew up on. They may now travel the world playing the best courses in the world in the best shape they can be in, yet that club where they forged their love for the game holds a special place in their hearts.
Today we will be having a look at some of the best examples of professionals and their associations with golf clubs. These clubs are worth visiting as there you will see some great memorabilia of the pros that still call the club home. Speak to members and hear their stories of these golfing superstars, you will find things out that very few people know.
After the incredibly successful return of The Open Championship to the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush, this seems like a fitting place to start. It was also wonderfully fitting that Darren Clarke, the man who calls this place home, got to hit the opening tee shot and set the tournament wheels in motion.
The 2011 Champion Golfer of the Year lives in the town of Portrush and is a member at the dramatic links. It was later that year that Clarke donated his Open Championship medal to Royal Portrush as he accepted an honorary membership and called this wonderful course home. This was certainly a great time in Irish golf history as Padraig Harrington had won three majors and Graeme McDowell had won the 2010 US Open. On his 10th birthday, a young prodigy called Rory met Darren Clarke for the first time at Portrush.
Clarke is vocal about his love for Royal Portrush, this is a course that changes so much depending on wind direction. He talks, with a beaming smile, of the genius design features that Harry Colt had used to make this majestic coastal masterpiece. His pride was on full show during The Open and rightly so.
Like most of the best links courses in the UK, Royal Portrush has more than one course on its property. The second course at Portrush, the Valley Links is another incredible course by Harry Colt that has been somewhat overshadowed by its big brother the Dunluce. The course has more recently been reimagined by Martin Ebert and is the original home to the Royal Portrush Ladies Club and Rathmore Golf Club. It is said that you haven’t properly experienced golf at Portrushuntil you have played both courses.
At Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2010, Graeme McDowell broke a 40-year winless streak of British golfers at the US Open.
McDowell was born in the town of Portrush in 1979 and has been a very proud export of the area for decades. In a twist of misfortune, 2019 was the year that his exemption ran out for The Open, the year it came to his home town. Fortunately, at the RBC Canadian Open, the northern Irishman drained a 30-foot putt to claim a spot, he left it late but he got there. Having learned to play the game at Rathmore Golf Club, it wouldn’t have been the same event without G-Mac. In some ways, the Dunluce Links is his golfing back garden.
We will stick with the Open Championship theme as it is that time of year. Arguably the greatest player to have never won a major championship, although he has now won many senior majors, Colin Montgomerie grew up playing at Royal Troon. The eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner’s father was Club Secretary at the Ayrshire links and, much like G-Mac, above, Monty managed to claim a late spot at his home Open in 2016.
The former Ryder Cup captain first played the children’s course at Royal Troon when he was just six years old. Having grown up just yards from the course, Monty learned the skills that would make him one of Europe’s greatest ever golfers on this very land. He played the course in every conceivable condition and had the honour of leading out The Open in 2016. A fitting way to play the likely last home Open that will take place in his career.
Monty was certainly one of Europe’s greatest assets during Ryder Cup matches in his day. When his days playing for Europe were over, Monty was quickly replaced by a young Englishman with a lion heart and a great passion for the team event. Ian Poulter became the new talisman for Team Europe and, in a strange parallel, has never won a major championship. The charismatic Englishman has one of the most interesting careers of modern golf and is a dying breed of player, he was an assistant pro at a club and grafted his way to global stardom.
Since 2003, Poulter has been attached to Woburn. He credits much of his success in the world of golf to the great facilities that have been made available to him at this fantastic club. He has also made sure that he supported the development of the club and future stars of the game. The Ian Poulter Junior Invitational was held between 2005 and 2016 on the Maquess Course at Woburn Golf Club and is a fitting example of Poulter’s love for developing the sport. In 2017, Poulter qualified for The Open at Woburn playing the role of home hero perfectly as he sealed a place at Carnoustie. This is a great relationship between club and professional, something that golf is all about.
North Hants Golf Club, England
Another of England’s modern golfing heroes is Justin Rose. In 1998, at Royal Birkdale, a new name in golf came to the public view as a seventeen-year-old won the Silver Medal, awarded to the best finishing amateur at The Open Championship. The young amateur holed his final shot from short of the green to finish 4th in the even that was won by Mark O’Meara. After a testing start to his professional career, Rose started to become one of the finest players in the world and won the 2013 US Open at Merion.
From the age of 10, Justin Rose was a member at North Hants Golf Club. He learned the game and by the age of 14 had a plus-three handicap. He recently put his name to a room in the club that they can rent out for meetings an events. The room is full of images and memorabilia from his glittering career including a replica of his US Open trophy. This is one of the ways he is helping support the club that helped make him the player he is today. Rose remains a proud member of the club and many who follow him on Twitter will have noticed that when he signed-in for The Open Championship at Royal Portrush he had North Hants down as his club.
One of British golfs hottest prospects at the moment is Matt Wallace. Under the expert tutelage of Robert Rock, Wallace has won multiple times around the world and is now in the top-50 in the world rankings. He is, to many, one of the best prospects for the next British major champion. At the beginning of 2019, The Belfry announced that Matt Wallace would be their club ambassador.
Wallace was incredibly proud to represent one of the most famous golf resorts in the UK and the home of multiple Ryder Cups and tour events. This player association is different from most of the others as this is one where both parties will promote one another, this is the way of modern golf. It gives Matt Wallace the use of the incredible facilities that are on hand at the state of the art academy and will help him develop his game further. Maybe you’ll see him down there if you go for a visit.
Campo de Mediterráneo, Spain
One of the most beloved players on the European Tour became a major champion for the first time during the 2017 US Masters as he defeated Justin Rose to take the green jacket. At the age of 37, the Spaniard had to wait some time to join the major winning circle as he had been on the scene from a very young age. As one of the golfing worlds fan favourites, this victory pleased so many out there. At Campo de Mediterráneo, Garcia developed his unique swing and a game that would take the world by storm. Many still say he is the best ball-striker of his generation.
He would return to the club where it all began and celebrate his Masters victory by showing off his green jacket to members, staff, family and friends. He said, during this trip, that he used to practice his putting on the club’s green and pretend he had to make the putt to win The Masters. Be honest, you’ve done the same. The course has also held many prestigious events including The Spanish Open, this is a wonderful club that is rightly proud of its famous member.
Holywood Golf Club, Ireland
One of the most famous player and club associations has to be between Rory McIlroy and Holywood Golf Club. Much has been made of the fact that Rory’s meteoric rise as a youngster was given a great springboard through his time as a child at the club in Northern Ireland. Some may recall the appearance on Irish TV by a very young Rory as he hit a pitch into a washing machine.
A corner of the clubhouse at Holywood Golf Club is dedicated to the former world number one where you can see an incredible collection of Rory mementoes. The multiple major winner goes back often to visit the club and see his friends there. One of the stories of the club is that in 2004 Rory’s dad and a friend from the club bet £100 each that he would win a major in the coming 10 years. The bet had odds of 500/1, and came in on the final year it could meaning the pair split £100,000 between them. Rory even has his very own parking space at the club so you’ll quickly know if he’s around when you visit.
Clubs always remember the stars that have come through their system and who still call the course home. They, rightly, celebrate those golfers who have developed their game and who inspire the current juniors to show them what is possible if they fully apply themselves to developing their skills. From the list above you can see that even some of the most famous golfers in the world still have their clubs close to their hearts.
The individual nature of the sport of golf lends itself to people remembering the characters of clubs and those who excelled during their time there. Clubs are awash with tales of junior and adult members who have gone on to national and international honours whilst they played at the club. Members are proud to be at a club with such famous names and it does, ultimately, benefit the club financially. When you visit a club who has helped create a star of our sport, try to imagine the young version of that player coming in and sitting with his friends after a junior medal and talking about the dropped shots during the round. It is a funny thought but these stars were once average club golfers like the majority of us, they may have just done this when they were about 12 years old. Get a sneak peek behind the scenes and learn more about your favourite tour golfers.