Of all the challenges Shane Lowry had to overcome in Portrush last week, none was more persistent or annoying than the American journalist who insisted on pestering the Irish golfer — and the others from the island — with questions about the symbolism of an Open Championship held in Northern Ireland.
If you thought Lowry’s performance around the Dunluce Links was impressive, then you should have thrown an ear at those press conferences when the particular reporter’s entreaties for a deep, considered reply on the intricacies of North-South relations, religious differences, etc were so expertly handled. Lowry played him like he would a pitching wedge from 20 feet.
Three times over the course of the four days the reporter made the same approach and each time the discussion was killed stone dead with a touch that was every bit as nuanced, and yet assured, as the short game which allowed him complete the tournament in an impressive 15-under-par.
“Is there a message?” Lowry was asked for the last time late on Sunday evening by our intrepid friend. “We know the history outside of sports in this island. Do you think there’s a message here? Do you think there’s some symbolism here? Is it emotional for you?”
Lowry, unblinkingly, spoke about the impressive course set-up and his past success in Portrush as an amateur. Only then did he even deign to lap at the shores of the wider debate without coming close to wading in on the deeper issues that were of such concern to his questioner.
“But, look, to be able to go home this evening. I’m home now, you know what I mean? To be able to win it at home ... and it was just so easy for people to make the trip up to watch me. To be able to go out and celebrate with local people is just... yeah, it’s obviously very nice.”
Lowry joked last week that he never had the right physique to play football for Offaly, but that shimmy was particularly well-timed.
There was plenty said and written about the wider significance of The Open being played in Portrush and there is little doubt but that it was overplayed. It would have been trite to make this about more than him at his moment of victory.
Contractors were already pulling up those metallic walkways that lined the course as the new champion golfer was speaking to the media.
Give it a year and the grass trampled by the 237,750 fans will have recovered and there won’t be a reminder left that the place was festooned in tricolours for one memorable day in July.
The union flags will continue to hang from lamp posts around that corner of Antrim for a long time to come. All in all, little enough will have changed because of one golf tournament, no matter how grand it may be. It’s a lesson we should learn now that talk has turned to the Ryder Cup at Adare Manor in 2026.
Confirmation that it is happening is good news. The question is, how good?
When the K Club was announced as the venue for the 2006 version, we were bombarded with figures as to its worth to the economy. Then Minister for Sport John O’Donoghue quoted €300m back in 2003. Another report put it at €130m. By 2005, €200m was being bandied about.
Hey, what’s a few million when everyone is having fun?
Other disparities flourished besides. There were, depending on where you read it, somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 media descending on Ireland for the event. The number of households able to access that year’s Ryder Cup was put somewhere between 370m and 750m.
The headline figure was the estimated one billion people who would/could/had the potential to watch it. One billion? Really? It seemed a stretch even at the time, given there was no live mainstream TV coverage in the States over the first day and the weekend’s action kicked off before breakfast.
Not exactly prime time, that.
There’s no doubt that the Ryder Cup will be of benefit to Adare, Limerick and the southwest in general.
Dromoland Castle was block-booked a year in advance of the K Club edition — and that was a two-hour drive — although some guests may have contributed to the estimated 600 helicopter flights into the Kildare venue in ’06.
That Ryder Cup was clearly a big deal.
The GAA moved its senior All-Ireland finals for only the second time in history to accommodate it. An Post issued a commemorative 34-page prestige stamp collection, and one-day tickets were being offered online for anything up to €800.
But let’s just be wary of just how far the ripples are likely to spread. You hear figures of $300m mentioned in terms of the Super Bowl and its worth to host cities, but one economic report found that the real figure is much closer to $30m and concluded that the game had no effect on real per capita income in the immediate area.
The Open Championship was great. So was the K Club in ’06. Adare Manor will undoubtedly blow everyone away and it may be that the hosting of the Ryder Cup leaves behind something concrete to the area in the shape of improved infrastructure and the like.
But beware politicians spouting numbers. And reporters with one-tracked minds.