Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Steven Beacom: We're right on course as tee time draws near

Preperations for the Irish Open 2012 at Royal Portrush
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JUNE 26: Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland chipping under the watchful eye of coach Pete Cowen of England during practice for the 2012 Irish Open held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on June 26, 2012 in Portrush, Northern Ireland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
Ghostbusters star Bill Murray with his brother Joel Murray (left), who plays Freddy Rumsden in TV series Mad Men and Maybeth Fenton arrive at Royal Portrush

It felt like the calm before the swarm. Yesterday was a quiet day at Royal Portrush. The numbers wandering around on and off the golf course were in the hundreds.

Today and tomorrow will be a whole lot busier and by the time the Irish Open tees off the place will be packed with thousands keen to pay homage to their homegrown heroes.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday are all 27,000 sell-outs. Thursday is going the same way.

The European Tour, as you would expect, are delighted by the response of the Northern Ireland public.

They have embraced this tournament.

Remember the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come” was the most memorable line.

For the Irish Open at Portrush, the script should read: “If you bring it, they will come”.

This is going to be some week for our wee country.

The Queen is arriving in Northern Ireland to shake a few hands and hold a big party at Stormont and 60 miles up the road the kings of Ulster golf will be preparing for and then playing in the biggest sporting event ever staged here.

How our wee country has changed. So much for the better.

Would the Irish Open have taken place in Northern Ireland 20 years ago? No.

Not even 10. Or five.

But we're in a different place now — with three Major champions — and like the Royal Portrush course on a clear day, it is glorious to behold.

Before the crowds roll in to see world renowned stars like our own Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington, Jose Maria Olazabal, Keegan Bradley and John Daly, I took the opportunity to wander around the 18 holes.

With every step from the first to the last there was an air of expectation drifting over the fairways.

It was as if the old course knew something special was about to happen.

Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin was out fine-tuning his game.

The big Linfield supporter, a fine golfer and a good guy, explained that he turned down the opportunity to qualify for the Open in order to spend all week here.

That's how much this one means to him.

Men like Maybin spend most of their year flying all over the globe so to play a top tournament in his own backyard has him buzzing.

It's the same for the rest of our boys, be they gifted teenager Dermot McElroy, West of Ireland champion Harry Diamond or G-Mac himself who were all out getting their eye in on the course.

I've never played Portrush for fear of losing more balls than England do penalty shoot-outs, but I've always marvelled at its landscape, character and pitfalls.

Right now though, I would say it has never looked better. Dressed up in the finest of clothes for its big moment on the runway for all the world to see, it has been transformed.

When the spectators walk in this week they will be greeted by a large welcoming billboard with Rory, Darren, Graeme, Padraig and last year's winner Simon Dyson staring back at them.

In the car park opposite the clubhouse, huge lorries sit bearing the name of golf manufacturers.

You name it, they are here from Ping to Titleist to Callaway — an indication of the magnitude of the event.

And then there's the tented village with its sports bar, steakhouse and coffee shops all ready, willing and able to serve the crowds.

This is huge.

European Tour Chief Press Officer Scott Crockett has seen just about it all in golf, but he admits to feeling great excitement about what is about to come.

He said: “It's hard not to be excited about this tournament. One thing that is incredible is that we have managed to put together an event of this size in only six months. Big sporting events normally have a longer lead up time.

“It came about because of the success of the Northern Ireland golfers and the fact we were looking for a venue for the Irish Open. The Portrush club, with Wilma Erskine, the secretary/manager here and her team have been great as have the government and Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

“We are confident that everyone who comes this week will have a good time.”

It's got that sort of vibe about it, that's for sure.

My advice? If you are coming, get here early.

And enjoy the show that Darren, Graeme, Rory and the rest are determined to put on.

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