By: Jo Maes, President of the EGTMA
From its humble beginnings back in 1927 when the first Irish Open was held at Portmarnock with George Duncan hitting 312 shots over 72 holes to this year’s event to be held at Portstewart Golf Club on the Wild Atlantic Way, the Irish Open has had its ups and downs over the years. The event had some prolific winners over the years with a who’s who of golf in Montgomerie, Ballesteros, Langer and Faldo each winning three titles and not forgetting Woosnam, Olazabal, Harrington, Christy O’Connor, Torrance, Lowry (as an amateur) and also Garcia’s first professional win on tour.
Since Rory put his shoulders under the event, the golf mad Irish have supported the event in droves as the 2012 event held at Royal Portrush sold out before the first tee shot was hit with 131.000 people through the gates and the highest attendance ever at a European Tour event. The historic links of Portrush is an attraction in itself but this year’s venue and the lesser known neighbour Portstewart will provide TV audiences across the world with some of the most scenic golf images ever to be shown on the TV screens of the millions of golfers worldwide.
The Portstewart Stand Course, which opened in 1894, borders the Atlantic Ocean and is a proper old fashioned links course with high dunes, elevated tee boxes, meandering fairways, upturned saucer greens and deep pot bunkers. It requires precision of the tee and delicate approach shots. It’s part of a cluster of courses united in the North & West Coast Links Golf organisation but the whole of the Wild Atlantic Way’s Atlantic coastline yields nothing but spectacular golf courses. The Par 72 stretches over 7,100 yards and requires you to get straight out of the blocks from the Par 4 dogleg right first hole, Tubber Patrick. The tee box, in front of the members’ lounge (doh), sits high above the fairway and with the Atlantic waves crashing on the right, one can easily forget there is golf to be played here and serious golf it will have to be. It has to be a must play on any Irish golf trip along this stretch of Irish coastline. Meander through the dunes, avoid the pot bunkers, the high rough and gorse bushes, find the tucked away greens and perfect the bump and run and you’ll be ‘grand’ as the locals would say. This is links golf at its best.
The Irish Open will be played early July and is now part of the European Tour’s Rolex series with guaranteed prize funds of 7 million dollars. This has drawn the top players to compete as it’s also an ideal preparation for a stretch of links golf culminating in the Open Championship. Obviously Rory, Padraig, Shane, Darren and Graeme will be trying to prevent anybody else from taking ‘their’ home Open but with Matsuyama, Rahm, Rose, Willett and likely the odd PGA Tour golfer still to be persuaded by Rory himself making an appearance, it will be no mean feat to lift the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Trophy come Sunday July 9th.