AS intermittent drizzle and low clouds enveloped Killarney yesterday, the television commentators at the 3 Irish Open Golf Championship eased off a little on the superlatives.
And, even though they couldn’t see Ireland’s highest mountain, they still tried valiantly to pronounce Carrantuohill. But, Fáilte Ireland and the tourist industry wore smiles as wide as the emerald green fairways, jubilant about all the free advertising south-west Ireland and the golf industry is getting.
Fáilte Ireland has put €1 million into the Open with 3, the mobile phone company, putting in €2m. The Open is now the major showcase for golf in Ireland, with a Fáilte Ireland spokesman saying they were “extremely pleased” with the event, so far. “The fact Killarney has been portrayed so well on television to millions of golfers around the world, will be of long-term benefit and will entice more golfers to make Ireland a must-see, must-do destination.”
In the face of serious competition from Scotland and Wales, Fáilte Ireland has fired up its golf marketing strategy and has top player Pádraig Harrington working as a golf ambassador.
Crowds were down a little yesterday – the official attendance was 17,396 – but galleries were still regarded as big for the second day of a leading professional tournament.
People rarely seen on a golf course turned up to see the action, including the redoubtable Kerry TD Jackie Healy-Rae in his trademark tartan cap.
He hurled with his native Kilgarvan in the 1950s and tried the small ball game only once – in Kenmare with a friend on a St Stephen’s Day, years ago, he recalled.
“What I can remember is that I was able to drive the ball into the other world because of the power I had from the hurling,” he said colourfully, while giving a demonstration of his swing.
“The minute this government goes to ground, I’ll take up golf with the biggest set of clubs I can get. But I don’t think that’ll be for a while yet.”
Sitting back and watching the golf on the big screen was Tipperary football manager John Evans, who was enjoying a family holiday after a successful season in the premier county.
A useful, 14-handicapper, he finds golf good therapy and also does a lot of his football thinking and planning while on the course.
“I’m hugely impressed with the way Irish players such as Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell are performing. In interviews, they come across as open, natural and down-to-earth people and are a great example to young Irish sportspeople,” said John, as he savoured the relaxed atmosphere of the tented village.
Cars owned by the leading professionals are providing an off-course attraction for motor fans of all ages, in particular Rory McIlroy’s Audi R8 V10.
The black, two-seater, with a maximum speed of 200mph, is like a shrine to a constant stream of admirers who take photographs and chat enthusiastically about the wonder machine.
However, Mercs are the preferred mode of conveyance for several other prominent professionals.
Several of the top golfers, including McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Justin Rose and Paul McGinley, are staying in the five-star Hotel Europe, which adjoins the course, while Pádraig Harrington is booked into the Aghadoe Heights Hotel, also five-star. US Open champion Graeme McDowell is staying in a holiday home in Milltown, Co Kerry, with a group of friends from the North.
One of the busiest people at the club is James Arthur, caddymaster and a legend in his own right, being part of golf in Killarney for nigh on 40 years.
Known to one and all as Wedge, he has taken on the role of Mr Fixit and the fellow you go to no matter what’s needed during the Open.
Organising the golfers’ bags, meeting and greeting and taking people from A to B, as he put it himself, all constitute a day in the life of the affable Wedge. He also organised fishing in the lake for South African player Hennie Otto and Darren Clarke, who caught two trout in Lough Lein.
The club’s 2,000 members have what is being dubbed “the golden ticket” for the Open – their own reserved pavilion, with balcony and bar facilities, opposite the fountain in front of the 18th green
Large crowds are expected today and tomorrow in Killarney, which will be chock-a-block for the August bank holiday, with at least 40,000 expected in for the golf.
And, the advice for golf fans is to bring the umbrella and raingear as the weekend forecast is for a mixture of sunshine and showers.
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