Record-setting crowds expected for the European Tour's 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush next week
I’m not the only one all fired up about the Irish Open heading to Royal Portrush, one of the game’s greatest links in Northern Ireland. The photo above, courtesy of the tournament website (click here), is of the fifth hole right on the Irish Sea.
The 2012 Irish Open, set for June 28-July 1, is a sell-out on the weekend, the first time that’s ever happened for a regular-season European Tour event. The Irish Open has never been a signature event of the Tour, but this year it is. It’s already sold more tickets than any other tournament this season. I thought the Solheim Cup last year at Ireland’s Killeen Castle gathered nice crowds (click here and here) and those who saw the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland witnessed future stars Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy duke it out (click here and here). This tournament will be the Emerald Isle’s biggest golf spectacle since the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club. The weekend coverage on the Golf Channel runs from 8:30-11:30 a.m. in the U.S.
“This year’s Irish Open is sure to be one of the biggest in the competition’s history with advance ticket sales reaching unprecedented levels and record crowds expected in County Antrim.” Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) Chief Executive Alan Clarke said for a story on the tournament website.
This has been a big year for Northern Ireland. Earlier this spring, Belfast celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Titantic’s launch (and tragic sinking). The boat was built in a Belfast shipyard.
The return of tournament golf to Portrush – the only course on the island to host a British Open – has generated plenty of excitement as well. The No. 1 draw, perhaps even overshadowing the course, remains the new Fab Four: Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington. Combined, they’ve won six major championships since 2007. McDowell, McIlroy and Clarke are all members at Royal Portrush. Its wild weather and fantastic layout has obviously played a major role shaping their games. They will all tee it up, something that’s rarely happened in the past. Their solidarity is a statement that Portrush should be considered for a second British Open – the last one was in 1951 – while these four stars are still playing competitively.
Personally, my first visit to the Irish Open will be memorable in many ways. First, I’ll get to see some fantastic links courses prior to attending the tournament on Thursday. I’ll experience County Sligo and The European Club for the first time and get reacquainted with Donegal, Rosapenna’s Sandy Hills Links and Ballyliffen’s Glashedy Course. The biggest thrill comes Wednesday when I tee it up with a European Tour pro in the pro-am at Portrush. Turns out, Bill Murray of Caddyshack fame will be playing, too, as will many Irish celebrities.
I’ve never played in a pro-am, so I’m quite nervous. I’m secretly torn. Drawing any one of the Fab Four as a partner would be the thrill of a lifetime, but I wonder how my 10-handicap game will hold up playing in front of the huge crowds that will likely be watching the group’s every move. Bogeys or birdies, it will still be a grand time. It always is, playing golf in Ireland and Northern Ireland. There’s nothing like it in the world.
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