Golf fans storm Royal Portrush to see Rory McIlroy and friends at the 2012 Irish Open in Northern Ireland
PORTRUSH, County Antrim, Northern Ireland – If the outpouring of love and support by the Irish golf fans for the 2012 Irish Open hasn’t won over the R&A by now, a British Open probably won’t ever come to the Dunluce Course at Royal Portrush.
I’ve spent the last two days at Royal Portrush – one of the world’s top links – and the scene has been wonderfully chaotic. Nobody relishes the spirit of the game or understands tournament golf better than the Irish.
The fans are putting their best foot forward to prove to the R&A that Royal Portrush is ready for another British Open. All those concerns about infrastructure and par-5s that are too short will be overcome by the sheer will and fortitude of the Irish. They know how to throw a party.
Royal Portrush – which last hosted the British Open in 1951 and the Irish Open in 1953 – looks and plays spectacular.
Englishman Mark Foster told Reuters that fans had been waiting to get on the course at six o’clock in the morning.
“There were people queuing to get in, even though the rain was coming sideways,” he was quoted as saying. “I’ve never seen a buzz in the players’ lounge like there is this week. People are raving about the course and the size of the crowds.”
More than 14,000 fans showed up for the pro-am to watch hackers like me play golf. It was surreal. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I did par the famous “Calamity Corner” at No. 14 by carrying the pit to the elevated green featured in the photo above, but as a whole, the pressure consumed my game.
In between holes, our pro, Simon Thornton, an English transplant who now lives in Northern Ireland, signed every autograph for children who asked for them. He even got down and read putts for his three amatuer partners. That, to me, symbolizes how genuine the Irish are in treating their guests like royalty.
Today’s first round was the first of four days of sell-outs, the first time that’s happened in the history of the European Tour. If that doesn’t send a message, nothing will.
After a fine morning, where the crowds flocked to the course, a nasty storm came through, suspending play. Within an hour, the sun was out in a blue sky. Some of the crowd came back, ready to watch more action.
There is such a buzz surrounding the major champions who regularly play Royal Portrush - Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell (not to mention three-time major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland). It would be great to see one – or all of them – tee it up at a major on this classic Harry Colt course.
Here’s hoping that the R&A sees it that way, too. Even with only one tournament round in the books, it’s clear that Royal Portrush is ready to shine in the major championship spotlight. The Fab Four might get all the credit if that happens, but it will be the fans who turn up the rest of the week, rain or shine, who seal the deal.
It must have been great fun to play in the Pro-am! Portrush is a terrific test and great job parring Calamity; it is a very difficult par 3.
I hope you had some strong Irish winds blowing when you played; it is the true way to experience links golf at its finest.