The Open 2019

A blog celebrating the Open Golf Championship, the Causeway Coast, and the wonderful little town of Portrush

I’ll state it right at the outset: I am not a golf fan. I’ve played one round in my entire life, and we had to let so many other groups of golfers past us slow coaches on the way round that I decided I’d quit while I was behind.

But, as I saw the preparations and infrastructure go up on the Royal Portrush Golf Course and the improvements in Portrush over the past few months, I decided I’d certainly need to get a ticket to enjoy something of the buzz and atmosphere this would surely bring to the Causeway Coast.

A Causeway introduction

Things started well for me, as on Thursday evening when I arrived up, I headed to the Giant’s Causeway for a quick photoshoot with some mates. There weren’t too many folks around - and we got chatting with a photographer who was there who had come all the way from the USA to enjoy the golf. On his first visit to the Causeway, would it work its magic for him?

Oh, yes. Oh, yes indeed!

A day at the golf

But the Causeway was only the appetiser. What would my first experience of a major golf tournament be?

The organisation has been brilliant. As we were shepherded towards the course, we were directed up and over a specially installed pedestrian bridge and into the heart of the Open experience itself.

Once in, we headed for the first tee, grabbing a place at the side to wait for Tiger Woods to tee off soon. The atmosphere and anticipation was building, as was the crowd, as Tiger’s tee time approached. He arrived out to applause and cheers - followed by more cheers when he drove straight down the fairway.

After he set off, we decided to head on out to one of the later holes to try to grab a decent spot as we waited for him to arrive. We got to explore the course - and it didn’t disappoint. Beautiful rolling dunes, perfectly maintained greens, and all with the most glorious of backdrops of the Causeway Coast. Here are some photos I got on the way round.

The organisation in the course was top notch. From the little villages offering food and beer dotted around the course (which were lovely, if inevitably very expensive indeed!), to the very pleasant and helpful marshals directing the thousands of spectators and making sure everything ran smoothly. For my first experience of a major golf tournament, it was a good one.

The come back that so nearly happened

Good as it was to see Tiger Woods and the other Northern Irish golfers, there was of course one player that even I as a non-fan wanted to see: Rory McIlroy. Sadly, after an horrendous first day, he had left himself with an almost insurmountable target to make the cut for the weekend.

But it seemed, with the pressure off, McIlroy was out to prove himself. He started late in the day, around the time that the inevitable Northern Irish rain started to fall. As we tried to follow his progress via our phones, it seemed like the impossible might just be on the cards. Birdie after birdie, he slowly but surely made his way up the leader board.

We needed to grab a bit of this action, we thought to ourselves. And off out to the middle of the course we went, grabbing a seat in a stand to try to see him in action.

Having seen him in action at holes 12 and 13, we decided to head for the 18th to get a seat in the stand there. If McIlroy was going to do it, we wanted to see that moment of sweet victory.

It did mean, of course, that we missed out on his further progress, although a combination of our phones and the huge roars that were periodically rising up from around the course kept us updated on how he was getting on. And he was getting closer!

And so it was time for hole 18. At 2 over, he needed to birdie this hole to make the cut. The first sign of his arrival was the manic rushing of those who had been at the 17th towards the 18th, desperate to get a view of this final last chance.

His tee shot was sound - he placed the ball in the centre of the fairway. All he needed was a decent second shot onto the green and it was game on. A respectful hush fell on the crowd and Rory prepared to hit the ball. We heard the thwack - and then there were those few seconds of uncertainty as we lost sight of the ball. Then, there it was, coming in to the left of the green. At first, we thought he had planted it just right. The crowd roared with approval - but that roar quickly gave way to a groan, as the ball rolled not over closer to the hole, but further to the left and down the slope.

He had one shot left to make it. But he had just made it very tough for himself.

There were many nervous discussions in the crowd as the golfers walked down towards the green, speculation on his chances from all the pundits in the stands. Of course, we knew it was highly unlikely. Really, that was him out.

But, when you follow sports in Northern Ireland, you learn to dare to dream, to hope beyond expectation that it might, it just might, work out.

As he arrived at the green, the crowd roared once more its approval, as if to thrust some confidence, some belief, some magic dust on Rory’s shoulders.

He inspected the green. He looked at all the angles. And, as he stepped up to take his shot, a hush fell once more, the only sound being the pounding of our hearts in our ears. Well, that and the sound of someone shouting out ‘No pressure!!”

Would we see a miracle…?

As he hit the ball, the crowd cried out spontaneously, ‘Come on…’ ‘Get in the hole’ for a second or two - before we all realised with a deflated sigh that today would not be that day. Despite an incredible score on the day, McIlroy wasn’t going to make the cut.

Classic Portrush fireworks

Disappointed as we were, there was still too much good about the Open weekend for our spirits to be dampened for long. The town was buzzing on the Saturday, and with the Sun out it was the most glorious of places to be.

That evening, how better to celebrate the hosting of this major sporting event that the classic sea side fireworks display. And there are few settings more spectacular than this. Rather than battling the crowds in the town, I decided to head to Blackrocks, to see the wider context of the display, and to include all of Ramore Head and West Bay in my shots (along with the big wheel too, of course).

All in all, a great job by everyone involved in making this world class event happen in Portrush. Here’s hoping that the folks who attended saw enough of the beauty of this sublime section of coastline that they’ll be back in the years to come. And maybe even the Open will return sometime soon. Tell you what, if it does, this golf non-fan will be right in there to get some tickets!