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How The Open visitors are teed up nicely for trip to Portrush

People from near and far are thronging the north coast town ... and many are not even there for the golf

Golf fans Koen Lodewyckx and Jasmien Stevens
Golf fans Koen Lodewyckx and Jasmien Stevens
Journalist Leona O’Neill enjoys the sunshine
Former golfer Andrew Woodside
Edel Devlin and Fudge in Portrush
Brian Hamilton from Belfast
Joe Killen with daughter Bernie
Spain’s Sergio Garcia signs autographs during preview day two of The Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club
USA’s Jordan Spieth signs autographs during preview day two of The Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club
Northern Irish golfer Darren Clarke
Tiger Woods
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The sun was beaming down on a hugely polished Portrush yesterday, and so were the eyes of the world. The paint was still drying on some of the buildings after a £17m facelift as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and other big-hitters rolled into town.

Some 215,000 spectators are expected to visit for the biggest sporting event ever held in Ireland, made even more special as it's the first time The Open has been in Portrush since 1951.

The main street was thronged with tourists and locals alike, all hoping to catch a glimpse of a famous golfer or indeed a celebrity golf fan.

There was talk of David Beckham being spotted kicking a football down at the beach. And Hollywood star George Clooney was apparently spotted perusing work in a local boutique art shop with Amal.

There were no foundations to those rumours, but one thing was for sure - people from all corners of the world, near and far, were in town to sample the golfing atmosphere.

Joseph Appleton is from St Helens in England. He says that he is very impressed by everything Portrush has to offer, particularly the Guinness.

"I have been to Ireland before, but all southern Ireland. I have never been to Northern Ireland, so this is our first visit and we are very impressed," he says.

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"It is absolutely beautiful here. I think we have been mainly spending our money on fish and chips and Guinness for the entire time we have been here. I don't see that changing much."

Valerie and Richard Moore didn't have as far to travel. They don't have tickets for the golf, but travelled up from Londonderry for the day to take it all in.

"We aren't even going to the golf," says Valerie.

Americans Kim and David Gesmundo
Americans Kim and David Gesmundo

"We really just came down to see the difference made to Portrush. It's looking great after all the work they have done, it looks amazing. We just came here to soak up the golfing atmosphere.

"We brought a picnic to have beside the seaside and we had a gander around the shops. We are hoping we might bump into Tiger Woods or, even better, Rory McIlroy. If we met Rory I would congratulate him greatly as he is a great ambassador for the country. I might even give him one of my picnic sandwiches."

Former golfer Andrew Woodside, from Ballyclare, says this year's family holiday just had to be Portrush.

"I'm here with my wife and daughters," he says. "I don't have tickets for the main event but I still came down to soak up the atmosphere and head to the beach.

"I used to be an assistant pro golfer back in the day. I don't play any more but I still enjoy watching it. I love the whole hubbub of the week and seeing it all building, it's great."

Edel Devlin from Ballymoney says she just wanted to visit to see Portrush's facelift and maybe get a selfie with a golfer.

Valerie and Richard Moore
Valerie and Richard Moore

"I was dying to come down to see what Portrush had done to itself to get in shape for The Open visitors," she says. "I just wanted to come and get a sense of the atmosphere. I would love to see some of the golfers around town. I think I would be cheeky and ask them for a selfie."

David Gesmundo and his wife Kim flew in from North Carolina for the golf.

"We absolutely love it," he says. "The people are just amazing. The weather has been great, but we would like it to rain, so that it's not too easy on the golfers.

From left, beach-goers in Portrush; Sean Austin, Jim Austin, Kevin Lowe and Joseph
Appleton in Portrush
From left, beach-goers in Portrush; Sean Austin, Jim Austin, Kevin Lowe and Joseph Appleton in Portrush

"This place is so special. The people have been so friendly and helpful to us and the country is beautiful. We will definitely be back."

Brian Hamilton from Belfast says he is not a golfing fan, but is learning to appreciate the game.

"I'm not necessarily here for The Open," he says. "But I think it's just lovely to see the sunshine and the place all spruced up and ready for people so that they can see the whole glory of the place.

Americans John Haecker and his sister Mary Beth Patterson
Americans John Haecker and his sister Mary Beth Patterson

"There really is a lovely buzz about Portrush and it's great to see that a bit of money has been spent on it. The eyes of the world are on here and we are doing Northern Ireland proud."

Scott O'Neill from Birmingham says as a regular Open attendee, Portrush has put on the best show so far.

"I am very impressed by what I have seen," he says. "I attend all of The Opens and it looks very much like you guys have made a little bit more effort than some of the other towns we have been to, to make it more family-friendly and have more of a vibe to it.

"When you come in and see the huge signs with the hashtag, it just looks great.

"The other Opens seem to be away from the towns so you tend not to be able to do what you can do here.

"I will be spending most of my money on Guinness and fish and chips this time around. I hear both are very good here. So far, this is definitely one of the best Opens we've been to.

Gary Price and Scott O’Neill from Birmingham
Gary Price and Scott O’Neill from Birmingham

"It's just so nice to come to a town which has really embraced with it."

Joe Killen, owner of The Dolphin chip shop on Causeway Street, says that he has been inundated with tourists looking for his now world-famous fish and chips.

"We have had a huge influx of tourists," he says. "Particularly American tourists. They really are fish and chip people.

"The Dolphin is renowned for our cod and chips so they all flock here and they are just loving our fish and chips.

"Rory McIlroy apparently told some of the media people that we had the best fish and chips in the town. We haven't had Tiger Woods in yet, but there's still time. We'd be delighted to fry him up some of our famous cod."

Brother and sister Mary Beth Patterson and John Haecker from Indiana say they will be going home with a haul of souvenirs.

"We are here for the Open and Ireland makes it so special," says Mary Beth. "We have been to several Opens. This is our first time in Portrush and it is just incredible. It is very nice and welcoming. You can tell that they have just rolled out the red carpet for everyone.

"While we are here we will be spending our money on eating and drinking and souvenirs. We are headed to the gift shop now. We always get a flag, some golf balls, a hat and a shirt.

"There will also be Guinness consumed. We started at the airport in Philadelphia, but I gather it's not the same as it is here, so we are looking forward to sampling that."

Edinburgh man Alan Logan says his first time in Ireland has been really special.

"This is our first time in Ireland and we came especially for the golf," he said. "We are staying in a local guest house near Bushmills which was booked up 12 months ago.

"Portrush is lovely. The beach looks spectacular and the people are very friendly and helpful. We go to The Open every year. This is a really special trip, given that The Open has not been here since 1951. It has given us the opportunity to visit Belfast, also.

"It's been just wonderful and the Guinness is great."

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