Few nations like to celebrate as much as Ireland which, in less than four weeks from now, will be throwing one of the biggest sporting parties of 2019.
After a wait of almost 60 years, Ireland will be hosting The Open Championship once again. Not since 1951, when flamboyant Englishman Max Faulkner held aloft the Claret Jug, has golf’s oldest major championship been staged in the Emerald Isle.
Faulkner, wearing eye-catching plus-fours, won by two strokes at Royal Portrush Golf Club, in County Antrim, which is where this year’s tournament takes place.
It was reported at the time that Faulkner, who was three weeks short of his 35th birthday, underscored autographs he signed for fans after round three with the words ‘1951 Open Champion.’ He was, after all, leading by six shots with 18 holes remaining.
And his victory was to be the last by a British or Irish golfer until Tony Jacklin triumphed 18 years later.
Although this year’s Open will be the first to be staged on Irish soil in more than five decades, the country has certainly played a major part in its recent history.
Since the turn of the Millennium, Ireland has supplied the champion four times – two wins apiece for the provinces of Ulster and Leinster.
The latter’s brace of victories belong to Padraig Harrington, who claimed back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008. Ulsterman Darren Clarke won in 2011, while County Down’s Rory McIlroy is the most recent Irish success story, following his triumph five years ago.
McIlroy will almost certainly take centre stage at Royal Portrush, where the pressure on the 30-year-old is likely to be immense. Not only will he face intense scrutiny from the media, but he will also have to contend with being the centre of attention from the fans.
If that’s bad enough, the bookies are already installing him as the player to beat – as shown on Paddy Power: https://www.paddypower.com/golf/open-championship-2019 – all of which helps to pile even more pressure on the local hero.
Championship organisers Royal & Ancient Golf Club (R&A) admit being staggered at the request for tickets, which have already sold out.
Mike Woodcock, director of corporate communications at the R&A, said: “It was phenomenal really and speaks volumes about the enthusiasm, not only for golf but for sport here in Northern Ireland,” as reported by the BBC (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/golf/46730251)
In readiness for the big event, the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush has been closed to members and visitors alike since early June, as the greenkeepers prepare fairways, bunkers and putting surfaces for the week of The Open.
According to the club’s own website, https://www.royalportrushgolfclub.com/, 190,000 tickets have been sold – just 8,000 watched Faulkner win in 1951 – and with an expected global TV audience of 600 million.
Portrush has always been one of the most highly-rated links in world golf but, for a number of years, did not have a good enough local infrastructure to cater for major tournaments. However, it will also stage The Open twice more before the year 2040.
It has hosted the British Senior Open six times and most recently the Irish Open in 2012.
The 1951 champion Max Faulkner died at the age of 88, 14 years ago, but his memory lives on and his larger-than-life spirit will certainly be part of this year’s championship when the people of Ireland welcome the golfing world to their shores in mid-July.