How do you take the pulse of a golf tournament?
There are 156 players from a staggering assortment of countries in this week’s Irish Open. And that’s just the start. Add in marshals and caterers and security and soda sellers and spectators and the rest and you have a pot pourri of humanity with little in common other than a fondness for baseball caps.
Your take will depend on what you bring to it. Some arrive with collapsible stools and an eye for swing mechanics. Other bring their kids and a blank curiosity. Take it all in from the press centre or the VIP ‘tent’ and you avail of some decent grub and a grasp of the bigger picture.
Traipsing through the dunes and dips is another thing entirely.
If there is one universal opinion held by this mass of people in West Clare it is surely the realisation that Lahinch has already proven itself a venue more than worthy of a return visit in the years to come. In fact, spend a few hours here this week and you wonder why it took this long to bring the gig here in the first place.
The European Tour is basically a circus with more money and less fashion sense. The show they offer is better in some stops than others. That’s just how it is. Any concerns over Lahinch were always logistical.
Are there tractors and cement mixers and assorted lorries on the windy road in from Ennis through Inagh and Ennistymon? Sure there are. Has traffic been a problem? Not an insurmountable one. The course itself has stood up to the challenge, spurting out one 63 for Pádraig Harrington and a late 64 for Zander Lombard but nothing lower. Yet.
“A tricky little puzzle,” was Graeme McDowell’s take.
The town itself has always been a destination to draw the traveller in and it scrubbed its face and put on its Sunday best for the world here.
The mixture of the usual surfer dudes with the more tailored golfing type — slackers and slacks, if you like — in the cafes and on the streets has made for an interesting vibe.
So too the proximity of the course to the town, which has earned it comparison with St Andrews in Scotland. Paul McGinley likes to point out that the Old Course’s second green is a mere hundred yards from the nearest pub while Liscannor Bay hugs the sixth and 12th fairways.
It’s a smorgasbord of sensory experiences, all within the range of a few Jon Rahm drives.
“Venue. Venue, venue, venue, venue, venue,” sais Harrington this week when asked for the five most important factors in choosing a host club for any Irish Open.
“We have to look, we know in Ireland our tourism industry is based on the fact that we are unique. You’re not just coming here to look at the scenery. You’re coming here to get a sense of the people, the country, and that’s the same when it comes to a golf tournament. It’s all about venue.
“The players want to come to somewhere different, somewhere unique, somewhere they can enjoy. The players, they’re always fascinated with coming to Ireland. Sometimes they are fascinated with how we live in the weather. Now they’re looking at the sunshine and it’s just so different.”
That much is obvious given the blind shots required to find the green on the par-four fourth which they named the Klondyke, and the Dell, the par-three fifth.
More memorable again is the sixth, a hole named simply and fittingly as Paradise for the views of the Atlantic that draw you down towards a well-guarded green and the beach behind it.
The folk at Tourism Ireland must be high-fiving all week.
It’s a stretch of land that would stun regardless of the conditions and yet Lahinch has clearly been blessed by the weather.
The other imponderable was the field and the absence of Rory McIlroy after his four years hosting this tournament which left the organisers playing a mulligan even before the first tee.
McIlroy’s shadow couldn’t help but linger over this event. His presence ensures the type of crowd that roams across a golf course like a gargantuan herd of cattle. The numbers following the signature group of Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, and Robert Knox was appreciably slimmer in numbers.
Still big, just smaller.
Even that could be taken as a positive. There was a less frenzied feel to the experience trailing that trio yesterday morning. Likewise with Harrington in the afternoon and the presence of both Irishman at the top of the leaderboard only adds to the suspicion that Lahinch may well prove to be more than just a superb venue. It may be a lucky one too.
Email: brendan.obrien@ examiner.ie Twitter: @byBrendanOBrien