IT was, as they say, like a day you’d write away for.
From the moment the morning mist began to lift from Lough Léin and the mountains slowly revealed themselves under a blazing sun, the scene was set for a perfect day.
The verdict in Killarney last night was that Irish golf tourism had received its biggest boost in years, following a successful start to the 3 Irish Open Golf Championship on the lakeside Killeen course.
Upwards of 200 million TV viewers around the globe saw the action and Fáilte Ireland reported a huge amount of website hits and calls from golf aficionados in the US, many of whom could be on their way to Killarney and other Irish courses as a result.
Crowds wearing shirt sleeves relaxed on grassy slopes on a day when temperatures hit 20C, or better, and sun cream was called for. Verdant Killarney was shown at its resplendent best to the world.
Crowds were larger than expected for the opening day and a happy tournament director Tomas Kelliher reported an attendance of 17,500.
One woman will forever remember it as the day a golf ball ended up in her handbag, of all places.
Helen Looney, from Kenmare, Co Kerry, was sitting on the grass off the ninth fairway and had just opened her bag to take out a bottle of water when the ball struck by Seung-yul Noh, from Korea, popped into it.
“I couldn’t believe it. Everyone around me got up and they all said not to touch the bag,” she said.
“I said, ‘this is worse than a bomb in the bag’ and just left the bag where it was on the ground. Everyone stood well back from it until the officials came.” Helen was accompanied by her sons, Tom, 11, and Mark, 8, who was the first to see the ball in the bag.
The player, who smiled when he saw what had happened and seemed unaffected by the bizarre incident, got a free drop after getting a ruling from a referee and duly smacked a beautiful shot onto the green.
A few minutes later, one of Ireland’s big hopes for the championship, Pádraig Harrington, almost hit three birdies, at once. A mother duck and her two ducklings were waddling along the fairway when Harrington’s drive dropped feet behind them.
Without as much as a quack quack, the family just went on to the next fairway, totally unperturbed by the minor flap and the attentions of a 2,000-strong gallery following Harrington, US Open champion Graeme McDowell and the top Irish player of the day, Damien McGrane.
Much local interest centred on the performance of Killarney man Dan Sugrue, who confessed being ‘fairly nervy’ after going around in a three-over-par 74 before his home crowd.
His parents Pat and Eileen Sugrue, brother Tom and sister Ellen Ann, were in the crowd that accompanied him and are hoping for a better performance today. His caddy is Corkman Cormac Finn.
Dan, 32, was up at 4.15am yesterday and, after a hearty breakfast, was on the practice ground at 5.30am warming up for a 7.40am tee off.
Kerry football selector Eamonn Fitzmaurice and his wife, Tina, were enjoying the golf but also had their minds on tomorrow’s All-Ireland football championship quarter-final between Kerry and Down in Croke Park.
“Down have won four games in a row and they had a great record against Kerry, but we should still beat them,” said Eamonn, who plays golf in Ballybunion off a handicap of 18.
Finally, while the overwhelming majority of people remained silent as players were addressing and hitting their balls, in accordance with golf etiquette, it seems only a matter of time before some player is upset by a ringing mobile phone.
Phones went off several times yesterday within earshot of the players.
“Leave your phone on,” shouted one woman into her mobile, clearly talking to a friend in another part of the course.
Talk about asking for trouble.
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