Out of Bounds: Stunning views at Portstewart deserve Irish Open exposure
Given a global audience, like Royal County Down, it won’t disappoint in impressing the world
A view from the first tee towards the green on the 427 yards par 4, eighth hole ‘Portnahapple’ on the Strand Course at Portstewart. Photograph: Inpho
The thing with standing on the first tee of the Strand Course at Portstewart is that - literally - it is all downhill from there.
In reality, it is one of the most stunning of views for the opening tee shot to a round of golf that you’ll find anywhere; and, fortunately, the decision to bring the DDF Irish Open around the country means the links will be showcased to a global television audience when it hosts the tournament in July. It deserves it.
The informal rota which has come about with moving the tournament around the island, North and South, is actually a throwback to the Irish Open’s origins. It was first played at Portmarnock in 1927 - when winner George Duncan used newspapers under his clothing as added protection against the weather - and moved north to Royal County Down in 1928, back to Portmarnock in 1929 and on to Royal Portrush in 1930.
The decision to return courses in Northern Ireland - initially at Portrush in 2012 - was an inspired move
And, over the subsequent years, up to the 1953 staging at Belvoir Park in Belfast, it moved from one venue to another - seven courses in all, Portmarnock (6), Royal County Down (3), Royal Portrush (3), Royal Dublin (3), Belvoir Park (2), Cork (1) and Malone (1) - until that tournament brought the curtain down.
From 1953 to 1974, there was no Irish Open, and its return to what was now the PGA European Tour at Woodbrook in 1975, when Christy O’Connor Jnr triumphed, signalled a new start for the tournament. However, the Irish Open from 1975 to 2011 was played entirely at courses in the Republic. Now, we can see that the decision to return courses in Northern Ireland - initially at Portrush in 2012 - was an inspired move.
And whilst Royal County Down and Royal Portrush have forever figured in polls accounting for the world’s top golf courses - “Golf Digest” magazine put RCD at number one ahead of Augusta National in second and Pine Valley in third when it conducted its ballot last year, with Portrush at 27 (before the course changes which will likely see it feature higher in future polls) - this is an opportunity for Portstewart, and especially the front nine, to be brought to a global audience. It won’t disappoint.
Roughly one third of links courses in the world are to be found and enjoyed in Ireland
Getting the opportunity to play the links recently, with mats in play to protect areas of fairways so it will be pristine come tournament time, only served to remind how blessed we are on this island to have such wonderful courses.
Roughly one third of links courses in the world are to be found and enjoyed in Ireland, which is certainly a selling point in attracting golfing tourists to our shores, in the region of 200,000 annually.
We’re told the potential global television reach for the Irish Open is around 400 million households, which makes the tournament an important component of marketing Ireland as a golfing destination, especially given the exposure it will get on the “Golf Channel” in the United States.
In playing host to the Irish Open, Portstewart - which has never before held the tournament - will get a chance to step out from the shadows of those magnificent links at Royal County Down and its near neighbour Royal Portrush.
Going there has shown that a little thinking outside the box actually works. What’s more, it will be the richest ever Irish Open with a winning cheque for €1 million.
The countdown is well and truly on . . . only 36 days to go.