Belfast Telegraph

The Open: Thousands flock to the fairways, but all's quiet on Portrush streets as retailers bank on late business

Hundreds of golf fans on the 18th on the first day of the 148th Open Championship in Royal Portrush
Hundreds of golf fans on the 18th on the first day of the 148th Open Championship in Royal Portrush
Chloe St John with the Big Heads
Aine Robinson and former Strictly judge Len Goodman
Paulina Brzezinska and Kim Murphy with a Tiger cake from Bob & Berts coffee shop
Rosie Harvey, Lydia Harvey (10), Hollie-Rose Lee (10), Hope Lee (5) and Alison Harvey, from Glengormley
Nicola Neill of Blackrock House B&B
Kay and Tony Rogers, who run bread business Tony’s Griddle from their Ballycastle home
Aine Kearney and Antoinette McKeown, CEO of Sport NI
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The wind, then the sideways rain, then the sunshine. Men bravely wearing shorts, women sensibly huddling under raincoats.

It's your typical day in Portrush.

Except it isn't.

Although the only giveaways that one of the world's biggest sporting events is happening half a mile along the coast are the golf-themed games in the harbour-front park and the tented craft village outside Barry's Amusements.

Surprisingly, it's quiet.

With tens of thousands descending on Royal Portrush Golf Course, surely there would be a queue of traffic heading into the north coast town?

The roads are clear and that's the first sign things are not quite as expected.

Parking a problem in the town centre? Absolutely not.

Getting people to the golf course seems to be a pretty slick operation, but perhaps too slick as far as business in the coastal resort is concerned.

Police cones line roads on the outskirts of town, but driving through is seamless. The main car park beside the Dunluce Centre is acting as a coach park, but there are still plenty of parking spaces elsewhere.

First port of call is The Harbour Bar. It's lunchtime, but inside a handful of golf fans are enjoying a quiet pint as they watch the action on TV. There's no crush to get to the bar, no long wait for food. It's all perfectly pleasant.

"It'll be busy later," the barman said.

And that's what the other businesses are banking on.

Strolling through the town, it feels like siesta time.

"It's all been very smooth," said Ben Loughlin, who runs Port Vapes on the town's main street.

"We made a mistake earlier this week and closed when it seemed very quiet around 6pm, but we'll be staying open late to catch trade when they all start coming back from the golf."

Other businesses are doing the same.

Calum McFarlane is manager at Koko Cafe, which fronts on to West Strand Beach.

"We've had to play it by ear," he said. "A lot of people are preoccupied by the golf of course and while that has generated a great atmosphere in town, a lot of people will get off the train and turn out of town.

"The best thing for us is the money spent on giving the town a facelift, but families not interested in golf should know Portrush is still open and available. The town isn't under siege."

In Bob & Berts coffee shop, which only opened this week, Kim Murphy said: "Maybe it's the American look, but we're got a lot in from the USA this morning."

Over at the famous Barry's Amusements, manager Kristina Trufelli wouldn't be drawn on how business has been since the golfing hordes descended. It does seem quieter than usual.

"The best thing about all of this is the showcase it will give to the north coast," she said.

"The Open will help show Portrush in a positive light. It's important the town maximises its potential in the future."

Just outside, a craft village is showcasing some of the best the north coast has to offer and Nicola Neill, who runs Blackrock House B&B and is also a member of local food group Taste Causeway, said her award winning whiskey fruit cake is proving popular with visitors.

Republic of Ireland's James Sugrue tees off the 1st during day one of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday July 18, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
Republic of Ireland's James Sugrue tees off the 1st during day one of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday July 18, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell tees off from the first hole during the first round of the British Open golf Championships at Royal Portrush golf club in Northern Ireland on July 18, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USEPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 18: Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland tees off the 5th during the first round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 18: Darren Clarke of the Northern Ireland celebrates his birdie on the first green during the first round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Some say at the end of a rainbow, there's a pot of gold. In reality, it's Darren Clarke.
A scoreboard showing Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy +4 during day one of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday July 18, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
Rory McIlroy made a quadruple bogey eight on his first hole.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy walks down the fairway from the first hole during the first round of the British Open golf Championships at Royal Portrush golf club in Northern Ireland on July 18, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USEPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Who's proud of Our Wee Country right now?
Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke during day one of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday July 18, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke celebrates his birdies on the 1st during day one of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday July 18, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 18: Darren Clarke of the Northern Ireland lines up a putt on the second green during the first round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 18: Amateur James Sugrue of Northern Ireland prepares to play a shot on the first hole during the first round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 18: Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland plays the opening tee shot off the first tee during the first round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 18: Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland plays the opening tee shot off the first tee during the first round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

"We're seeing a good mix of locals and visitors," she added. "We do get a surge every time a train comes in, but I guess a lot of people are just heading straight to the golf."

Kay and Tony Rogers, who run Tony's Griddle from their own kitchen in Ballycastle, were enjoying the international flavour of the day as they gave visitors a taste of NI breads.

"There has been a great buzz" said Kay. "And we're having fun explaining to Americans what the difference is between soda bread and a soda farl."

You can't say the town hasn't made an effort to keep young families amused, with a host of golf based activities, but in the afternoon the main game is 'spot the family'.

"It doesn't feel like the Twelfth fortnight," admitted Alison Harvey from Glengormley, in town along with Rosie Harvey and children Lydia Harvey (10), Hollie-Rose Lee (10) and Hope Lee (5).

"The men are at the golf but it seems a lot of people think there might be problems getting into town," she said. "It is all lovely and looking brilliant, but for a holiday time, it's pretty empty."

Stuart Meredith from Tandragee agreed.

"The atmosphere is great, but it's not busy at all," he said, keeping young Joshua and Leah entertained with wife Roberta.

About to show off his skills at a Rory McIlroy-inspired game, Kenneth Burtney from Ballynahinch said he was impressed with the new-look Portrush.

"It's tremendous," he said. "The north coast is hard to beat."

He didn't even have to wait for his crack at chipping golf balls into washing machines, and he showed his skills to wife Nicola and daughter Amy, with three shots in a row rattling into the drums.

"After today, I suppose I should have given Rory a tip or two!" he joked.

On the walk back to the car it was sunny, then it rained. There were no Americans.

Maybe they'll be around later and if they are, they'll find a Portrush staying open late, desperate to meet them.

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