Five things we learned at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Media Day
Wednesday's Media Day at Portstewart Golf Club marked exactly 50 days until the beginning of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open . The tournament will no doubt prove one of, if not THE highlight of Northern Ireland's sporting summer. Gareth Hanna was there for us - he pens his five findings of an interesting day on the North Coast.
1. The front nine at Portstewart really DOES live up to all the hype
I walked onto the first tee at Portstewart Golf Club ready to take in what I've often heard referred to as one of the best opening nine holes in Irish and even world golf. For a course that has historically lived in the shadow of near neighbour Royal Portrush, I wondered if that could really be true and as a former member of Portrush (thank-you very much to cheap fees for University of Ulster students), I was perhaps a little sceptical. But that didn't last long.
Belted and buffeted by a stern Atlantic Ocean breeze rushing down Portstewart Strand and up the dunes onto the opening tee box, it was incredibly tough to find the narrow slither of fairway. And that daunting tee shot paved the way perfectly onto a nine hole stretch in which almost every hole could well have been the feature hole. From the second nestled between the dunes, past a perfectly plotted par five fourth to the tricky dog-leg eighth, the full range of golfing flair is required to make it round without disaster. Sadly, I didn't even get close to that.
2. John Rahm is on his way to add some Spanish flair
One of the golf's up-and-coming superstars has added his name to the starting sheet at Portstewart- and his first tour victory gives us every reason to be excited.
As was announced by tournament host Rory McIlroy over a fuzzy phone-line during the morning press-conference, Rahm will tee it up alongside the likes of Olympic champion Justin Rose, 2016 Masters champions Danny Willett, Ryder Cup veteran Lee Westwood and of course local favourites Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke. He adds an extra dimension to the field, having shot to stardom earlier this year as he took world number one Dustin Johnston down the 18th in the final of the prestigious World Golf Championships Dell Technologies Match Play.
That was just three weeks after he finished tied third in the WGC-Mexico Championship and, how could we forget, it all started in January when he holed a 60 foot eagle putt on the final hole for his first ever PGA Tour title at the farmers Insurance Open. If he can make the final green of the Irish Open just as exciting, we're all in for a real treat.
✔ McIlroy— DDF Irish Open (@DDFIrishOpen) May 17, 2017
50 days to go... pic.twitter.com/5379yFVr8R
3. Over 20,000 spectators per day are expected to descend on the town
Not to blow our own trumpet or anything, but Northern Irish golf fans are just about the best there is. Over 112,000 attended the four days of the 2012 tournament at Royal Portrush, creating a European Tour record in the process. Simon Alliss, the European Tour's Championship Director for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, is hoping that Portstewart could also attract over 20,000 spectators per day and even expects the event to sell out
"We believe it's going to be the very best Dubai Duty Free Irish Open yet," he said. "We believe it's going to showcase Northern Ireland a a destination and a hidden gem. There is so much undiscovered beauty here that we want to showcase to the world." On that note, you can still buy your tickets via www.dubaidutyfreeirishopen.com.
4. Paul Dunne absolutely adores the Irish Open
To the casual golf fan, perhaps the Irish Open pales into relative insignificance when compared to the four majors. Even a brief chat with Irish professional Paul Dunne puts paid to that theory. He compares the event to an unofficial fifth major and as he relives his youth and describes the fervour with which he awaited the tournament every year, it's clear to see he means every word. Alright, it might not quite be as coveted a prize as the Claret Jug or a green jacket, but the Waterford Crystal trophy is a reward that is increasingly up there with the 'best of the rest' in world golf.
5. The golfing world is about to fall in love with Portstewart
The joys of both Royal Portrush and Royal County Down are already well revered but Northern Ireland's Triple Crown of world-renowned links courses is about to be completed. The eyes of the golfing world will be firmly fixed on the Irish Open from July 6-9 - and the north coast views that will be beamed across the globe are sure to grab the hearts of viewers everywhere
From that opening tee box, the cameras will fix themselves down the length of Portstewart Strand, over to Mussenden Temple and on to the outline of Donegal beyond. It's a view to match anything golf has to offer and don't be surprised to see your Twitter feeds filled with American viewers amazed at the sights. I'll wager the Portstewart GC phones will be chock-a-block the week after the tournament anyway.