Being poked in the eye by umbrellas and paying over the odds for everything, yet The Open was an Offaly brilliant experience
QUEUEING. Walking. Paying over the odds for everything. Not buying ice cream because it was just too damn dear. Technology failing. Risking dehydration because getting to a toilet took too long.
Getting umbrellas poked into my head. Repeatedly. Finding out that a ‘waterproof’ coat doesn’t actually live up to that description (and indeed turned out to be still wet the next morning).
All things I hate – but I absolutely loved The Open.
The experience reminded me of going to see The Beach Boys’ main man Brian Wilson. My expectations were extremely low, the decision to go mostly based on being able to tick his name off my musical ‘bucket list’. Yet it turned out to be one of the best concerts I’d ever been to, and that’s still the case many years later.
Buying tickets for The Open was about ‘being there’. Doom-mongering media colleagues who’d covered golf before warned me that I’d see very little actual play and in fact would be better off watching it on TV.
Factor in that the tournament was over for both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy before I even reached Coleraine, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington too, and the weekend could well have been a damp squib.
The only consolation was that my reputation as an all-round sporting seer had been boosted. Tongue-in-cheek, I was able to recall how I’d suggested to my old mate Peter Alliss that the course wouldn’t suit Rory – and the so-called ‘voice of golf’ demurred. Who’s the real golf expert now, eh, Pete?
Yet even through crackly car radio reception, listening to Rory’s charge as tried to make the cut was an indication of what was to come.
Being there was utterly brilliant, as I’m sure the other couple of hundred thousand spectators would agree.
The Open will be back at Royal Portrush, probably within a decade, but its return after a 68-year absence will live long in the collective memory.
I’m not even a fair-weather golfer, having put my cheap mish-mash collection of pitch-and-putt clubs (no driver) in a shed somewhere around 15 years ago.
So the enjoyment for real golfers, those who regularly play and/or watch the game, must have been phenomenal.
Luckily the weather was fair for the third round, for what will surely be remembered as ‘Super Saturday’.
Disbelief turned to delight as Shane Lowry pulled clear and clearer. The scenes of celebration as he went to submit his score-card were something else.
Even the foul flatulence - more noxious American trumping - emanating from someone sitting right in front of us in the 18th green grandstand (and never blooming well moving all the time we were there) didn’t ruin our enjoyment. We’d have welcomed a stiffer breeze then.
Sunday was very different, wetter and tenser. Even one of the leaders on Saturday afternoon was still struggling. Indeed the back nine put in (or three-putted in) by JB Holmes was akin to my own ‘game’. The theme song for ‘Down on the farm’ – with JB and Storm – kept running through my head, like rainwater down my back.
Yet even those who can really play golf would have admired the ability on display by most of the other competitors in extremely testing circumstances.
I have even acquired a new-found admiration for golf spectators. Despite wearing ski socks, wellies, genuinely water-proof ski trousers, a t-shirt, jacket, coat, and hat I still almost slipped into a hypothermic coma as the wind whipped into me at the edge of a grandstand.
The downpour was like nothing I’d ever seen or felt before - and I’ve been in an actual jungle in Thailand.
I was genuinely stunned that play continued as the rain bucketed down in sheets.
My innate pessimism still made me worry for Offaly man Lowry, even when he was six shots clear stepping up to the 18th tee.
The craziness of golf is that he still could have lost, had disaster struck on that final hole, letting his playing partner Tommy Fleetwood slip past him.
Incidentally, I’ve heard that The Open runner-up is planning to start selling his own branded rain-jacket. He’s going to call it ‘Tommy’s Trench Coat’. I’ll get my own coat….
A more plausible rumour doing the rounds is that Portrush is not only setting its sights on holding another Open within the next decade – but also hoping to host a Ryder Cup.
It’s not always wise to aim higher in golf, certainly not on a windswept links course, but the Portrush experience was so amazing that the golf authorities may well consider bringing the inter-continental event to the Dunluce setting.
The Ryder Cup venues for 2026 and 2030 are still up for grabs and although
Adare Manor in Limerick is reckoned to be the leading contender for the first of those, for what would be two decades on from the only Ryder Cup in Ireland (at the K Club), Portrush has elevated itself up the pecking order.
The recent run this century, with Italy set to play host in 2022, has been reminiscent of rugby’s Six Nations, with the venues used being in England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and France.
Obviously last week illustrated that there’s no need to raise Irish interest in golf, so the European authorities may wish to take it to a country which has lost out in recent bids, such as Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, or Sweden.
However, in terms of making golf ‘sexier’ as a spectator sport, both in the flesh or on TV, it would be hard to top what Portrush provided.