Northern Ireland has gone golf crazy as the Royal Portrush course is currently hosting the 148th British Open. The world’s top golfers have descended upon the seaside resort to do battle for the famous Claret Jug. Tiger Woods, Phil Michelson and our very own Rory McIlroy are vying for sporting glory and the opportunity to stroll down the final fairway on Sunday evening, to be crowned champion.
Portrush has also been inundated with celebrities. George Clooney is reportedly in town, David Beckham has been spotted and our very own Jimmy Nesbitt is everywhere you look. For those that don’t know, he’s one of our leading actors and played Bofur the Dwarf in ‘The Hobbit’ movies. He’s also the star of the hit TV series, ‘Cold Feet.’ Fionnuala and I sat beside him in a pub once, but were too starstuck to talk to him.
Tickets to the event were sold out months ago and are now changing hands at extortionate rates. Every hotel, bed & breakfast and hole in the hedge is booked up. There are rumours circulating that wealthy Americans are paying the outstanding mortgages of local homeowners in order to rent their properties for the week. The local airport has seen the number of private jets landing, rise by 1000%.
Hundreds of thousands are expected to visit Portrush this weekend. Local retailers are rubbing their hands in glee at the welcome windfall. Portrush is at the centre of a global media circus and deservedly basking in its 15 minutes of fame. But that’s not the Portrush I know and, besides, I’ve never swung a golf club in anger in my life. I’m a sports obsessive, but I never quite worked out the allure of golf.
This is all the more peculiar as I was raised beside a golf course in my home town of Omagh. I remember hunting for lost balls in the rough as a young boy and then selling them to passing golfers for 10p apiece. A small fortune back in the day. But that’s as far as my relationship with the game went. I’ll keep half an eye on who wins, but I’ll not be glued to my television screen to watch gaudily attired men hitting a little white ball into a little white hole.
As a young boy, a week in Portrush was the highlight of my summer, if not year. Although less than a two hour drive from home it seemed light years away from the mundanity of life. I may as well have been in Vegas, such was the excitement of visiting Barry’s, the town’s famous amusement park. I can still conjure up the smell of smoking rubber from the dodgem cars. Portrush was heaven on earth.
Ice cream cones with a chocolate flake in the top, sickly sweet candy floss and fish & chips every night for tea. It simply couldn’t get much better. My sister and I gorged ourselves on everything edible in sight, between bickering over whose turn it was to sit at the front of the ghost train or any other number of sibling squabbles. The return journey to Omagh was always akin to a funeral cortège, as a depressive pall settled over the back seat of our car.
So, good luck Portrush. I’m sure once the dust settles and life returns to normal next Monday, many golfing freaks will share the same melancholic comedown that my sister and I experienced. Hopefully, however, they will also have fantastic memories which will stay with them for the rest of their lives; just like a shy, tubby, country boy when he visited the resort over 30 years ago. Viva Portrush, the Vegas of Northern Ireland.
Are a golf nut or do you despise the sort?
What’s your favourite childhood holiday memory?