Sport has always been about its sounds as much as its sights and the opening day of this year’s Irish Open, which is held for the first time in 76 years at a scenic but unsettled Royal County Down, brought that home yet again.
“Oh my God,” said one woman as her eyes caught sight of Rory McIlroy’s score on one of those mobile boards that follow golfers about. The world number one, the man who had bent the ear of so many of his famous golf pals to come and play here this week, was eight over par.
The day’s main story, summed up in one astonished gasp.
If you know nothing about golf then take it from us: Eight over is bad. Nine over, the score he ultimately finished with, is obviously worse. How bad? Bottom of the pile bad, baby. How-did-this-guy-get-an-invite-to-the-tournament bad.
It was McIlroy’s car — a BMW i8 with pop-up doors like the DeLorean — that stole the show from stars including jockey AP McCoy and comedian Patrick Kielty earlier in the week. This was just car crash — and from the guy whose Rory Foundation is hosting the week in his own back yard.
McIlroy was the guy doling out the invites.
It is because of him and the Rory Foundation that Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, and other leading lights are helping to shine a light on the tournament, but you just can’t overstate the centrality of McIlroy to an enterprise boasting £1.75m (€2.45m) in prize money and one expecting 80,000 spectators.
His presence is felt everywhere.
It is McIlroy’s face that adorns the billboards as you drive east through the Mourne Peninsula towards Newcastle and on the official programme. An identical car to the one he is driving this week welcomes fans as they flow through the main gate, while replicas of his Nike garments of choice take pride of place in the merchandise store.
Unbelievable golfer though he is, it will take a miracle for McIlroy to shoot a round low enough to make the cut today and ensure himself a playing berth through the weekend, but he will still be entitled to move on next week with the sense that this was a job well done.
Golf tourism was worth £33m to Northern Ireland last year — up £6m from 2013 — and the course, the town of Newcastle, and the surrounding region have put their glad rags on and applied the make-up as they “welcomed the world” as one local paper rather grandly put it.
The course’s 22 greenkeepers have been re- inforced by 23 colleagues from around Britain and Ireland to keep the course itself in prime fettle.
Stewards and marshals have volunteered from across the North to keep the competition itself ticking over smoothly.
Rory aside, of course.
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