Irish Open 2015: How Royal County Down Golf Club and Newcastle are working together to make tournament a success
The 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush was one of the most successful tournaments in the history of the European Tour – and now the Royal County Down club is aiming to be a big hit too.
In terms of ticket sales they won’t trump their northern neighbours as spectators are limited to 20,000 each day.
But RCD captain Kenneth McCaw says the two clubs have worked together in the build-up to this year’s event.
“Royal Portrush hosted a very successful tournament and we have a strong relationship with them,” he says. “Naturally we were in touch to find out what worked for them and what went wrong to see if we could improve one or two things.”
The one major criticism of the 2012 event came from the Portush traders who were dismayed to discover that golf patrons were unable to leave the course to visit the town centre and then return. That is being put right this time.
“The town of Newcastle is very important to the club and the club is very important to the town,” says Kenneth. “So we are all working together on this.
“It’s important that everyone benefits and this was an important part of the negotiations over whether we were going to host the tournament that the town was on the agenda.
“So, yes, we would encourage everyone coming to the Irish Open to visit the town at some stage.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to explore the local area, especially if they haven’t been there before.”
Royal County Down’s reputation as one of the best courses anywhere in the world has undoubtedly had an impact on the world-class field assembling this year – although the club is keen to stress that Rory McIlroy’s efforts have played a major part.
“We are lucky enough at Royal County Down to be the custodians of one of the finest links courses in the world,” Kenneth says.
“But it’s difficult to overestimate the personal contribution that Rory McIlroy has given to this Irish Open. It promises to be the one of the best that we’ve ever had.”
At a touch under 7,200 yards, Royal County Down is not long by the standards of most European Tour venues, but Kenneth says the club is not worried that their course will prove too easy for the top modern professionals.
It was predicted that Royal Portrush would be eaten up by the top players, but that didn’t prove to be the case.
“Length is not everything,” says Kenneth. “There are a few shots out there, particularly off the tee, which is going to need a bit of height on the ball which is probably unique on a links course and shots into the green can be a bit tricky
“It doesn’t really matter what the winning score is. These are world class golfers and we have got a field that the golfing public can come along and watch.
“If they finish on a really good score then that’s terrific.”
Preparations for the event have been going on since last year and a small army of people from Royal County Down has been assembled to make sure that it all goes off without a hitch.
The members have been playing off mats since last October to keep the fairways in pristine condition and a host of attention has been paid to all manner of tiny details.
“Eamon Crawford the links manager, David Wilson the club secretary and Ian Webb and his championship committee have all worked incredibly hard to get us to where we are now,” said Kenneth.
“Douglas Webb has done an incredible job as chief marshal bringing together 400 marshals from 24 or 25 clubs across the province and for the club I’d like to say a big thank you to all of them as well.”
It’s been 76 years since the Royal County Down club last hosted an Irish Open. With pictures of the links at the foot of the Mournes to be beamed out across the world this time around, the gap to the next one should be a good deal shorter.