The turnout for the Irish Open—a European Tour record of 130,685— did at least get the attention of the Royal & Ancient. Local golfing heroes Darren Clark, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy along with Padraig Harrington of Dublin all backed calls for this to happen based on newspaper reports that I read while I was there.
However, the R&A dashed these hopes with an announcement at The Open three weeks later that it felt the course did not have the ability to stage a tournament of this magnitude.
I attended the first day of the Irish Open and was impressed with the crowds of enthusiastic locals starved to see golf professionals in action, including their favorite sons who drew the largest galleries.
I’m sure the fans were a little disappointed that their boys didn’t bring home the trophy—that honor went to Jamie Donaldson of Wales, a first time winner on the European Tour who won by four strokes at minus 18. Harrington tied for seventh at minus 12, McIlroy tied for 11th at minus 11, McDowell tied for 16th at minus 9 and Clarke tied for 30th at minus 4.
Scoring was a lot lower than I expected after hearing all the stories about how tough Portrush was for visiting Americans in the past. However, I’m sure the soft conditions played a role in this as links golf is always a lot tougher when conditions are drier and the ball rolls more.
As I also found on my own on other links courses on this second trip to Ireland, hitting an errant drive into the high rough can definitely make things harder, even for the professionals. Even with all the fans and marshals, PGA champion Keegan Bradley lost two balls and did not survive the cut.
It was nice to see how the European Tour staff responded when lightning was spotted in the area, quickly getting the players and fans to safety in a 90-minute delay. The players were lucky to return to more benign conditions instead of facing the wet conditions.
Sticking close to the hospitality area where there was plenty of drinks and food, including rack of lamb for lunch, I had a great view of the 18th fairway and green. The hole plays 469 yards. With wind in their faces, I saw only one birdiein the early going when the wind was into the players. This changed after the suspension of play.
The European Tour certainly needs to consider returning to Portrush, which hosted the first Irish Amateur in 1892 and the first Irish pro event three years later, for the Irish Open soon.
Visiting golfers will pay up to $200 for the privilege of playing the Dunluce Course, but it still should be among the must-play layouts along with Royal Country Down and Portstewart, a pair that I played on a previous visit. The fees for Dunluce’s shorter sister layout, The Valley, are less than $100.