In Pictures: Ballyliffin welcomes golfers and celebrities for Irish Open Pro-Am
IRELAND'S most northerly golf club yesterday welcomed some of the world's top golfers and figures from sport, television and politics to the fairways for the curtain-raiser to this year's Irish Open in Co Donegal.
Thousands of people basked in the glorious sunshine or took shelter in the shade of the beautiful surroundings of Ballyliffin Golf Club as the pro-am tournament got underway.
Golf fans and celebrity spotters mingled across the course to catch a glimpse of their chosen star with footballers, pop singers and even a Strictly Come Dancing stalwart among the stars to make their way round the links course.
Awash with rippling dunes that some golfing enthuasists commented created the ideal landscape for golf, Ballyliffin is hosting the prestigious sporting event for the first time and there was no shortage of praise for the course.
Among those to heap applause on the Donegal venue was last year's Irish Open champion, Spanish golfer Jon Rahm, who described Ballyliffin as an "outstanding golf course".
"I think it's one of the most beautiful courses I have ever played," he said.
"It's a tough test, it's not the easiest of golf course."
He added that he had been overwhelmed by the support from the crowds.
"It's been really special the support I get out here, I wouldn't expect anyone to know my name," he said.
"But the respect I have got is absolutely mind-blowing, it's similar if not better to the way I'm treated in Spain."
Former Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given had not far to travel to take part in the pro-am.
The Lifford man, who is set to join Derby County in a coaching capacity next season, was playing with professional Dylan Frittelli on the course.
"It's been a great day, the weather has been fantastic...I really enjoyed the experience, my very first pro-am ever so I was very nervous, but I enjoyed it out there," he said.
And while the course may be located in the northerly tip of the county, there was no shortage of stars wanting to take part in the pro-am tournament including renowned jockey AP McCoy, ex-snooker world champion Dennis Taylor and Derry City football club players Paddy McCourt, Gerard Doherty and Rory Patterson.
Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and pop singers Brian McFadden and Keith Duffy were also showing off their golfing prowess as well as crowd favourite, professional dancer on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing Anton du Beke.
For tournament host Rory McIlroy, he continued to be a crowd pleaser.
Just a few hours after he was spotted in nearby Carndonagh picking up a few groceries from a local SuperValu in Carndonagh, the Rory factor was apparent everywhere at the pro-am with even a mention of his name among the thousands of spectators drawing gasps and questions of 'is he here yet?'.
Speaking after he finished the pro-am yesterday, the Holywood golfer said he was delighted to be involved once again and announced that the Donegal Hospice would receive €100,000 from his charity, the Rory Foundation.