Sunday 18 August 2019

Portrush in the swing as Open fever takes over seaside town

Fans mix some great golf with ‘Game of Thrones’ location tours

Willie Gregg and pals in the Harbour Bar in Portrush, Co Antrim. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Willie Gregg and pals in the Harbour Bar in Portrush, Co Antrim. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Caddie Ricky Elliott alongside Brooks Koepka on the course yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Paul Childs
Mike Kozel, Hunter Knapp and Joe Osten from Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Martin and Norma Gault, from Moira, Co Down, with their children Ruben (6), Ezra (5) and Martha (1). Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Sorcha O’Connor in Portrush

Golf isn't the only game that spectators at the 148th Open are interested in.

The 'Game of Thrones'-themed 'Stones and Thrones' tour has seen some visitors to Portrush take the time to admire the locations from the hit HBO series which are dotted around the Northern Irish coast.

"We have noticed slightly higher numbers than usual for the coastal tours - 'Game of Thrones' being the main draw, as it also includes the Giants Causeway, an area steeped in local myths and legends," said Chris Greere of City Tours in Belfast.

"We have noticed the extra customers are not only from North America but Europe, which is great as we get the chance to deliver the five-star experience to customers from more parts of the world.

"We notice them straight off as they tend to be wearing golfing clothing brands."

Meanwhile back in Portrush, business is booming for local barman Willie Gregg, who has transformed the Harbour Bar into the '19th green' - with pride of place going to the Claret Jug that Darren Clarke won at the 2011 Open.

One man who will definitely be getting a free pint is Portrush native Ricky Elliott, who is caddie to American Brooks Koepka who sat in eighth place yesterday. Mr Gregg and Mr Elliott are lifelong friends.

"I've known him since he was born," Mr Gregg told the Irish Independent.

"Ricky's our hero here. I know his whole family.

"The respect he has in this town is monumental - and I think he will be up at the top on Sunday."

He added: "Darren Clarke and I fish together.

"This is the epicentre of golf. There is only one Portrush in the world."

Plenty of players and fans alike have popped into the pub during the week - after all, a round of golf is thirsty work, whether you've the club in your hand or you're following the stars of the game around the course.

However, this year at the Open, there are no plastic water bottles whatsoever as the organisers have rolled out a new scheme to stamp out single-use plastics.

This is the first major golf tournament to introduce such an initiative.

There are 24 filling stations across the Co Antrim course with the first 1,000 people in the gates each day getting a free aluminium bottle.

Spectators can also purchase a bottle for just £4.50 (€5) on the course, a reasonably priced piece of memorabilia.

The players also get a special engraved bottle to use as they compete in the prestigious contest.

Belfast couple Donna and David Kirk were two of the volunteers handing out the reusable bottles on the course yesterday morning.

"There's 24 filling stations with free water, that's chilled or room temperature," said David. "You can buy the bottles on course too. All the players get a blue bottle that is engraved and is put in their locker for them."

This scheme follows the lead of major music festivals such as Glastonbury where plastic bottles have been banned.

As the action continued on the course yesterday, the weather held up for the morning, a damp mist then rolled in with rainy conditions continuing for the afternoon.

There was still plenty of life around Portrush though, between holidaymakers and golf fans who had travelled from the US. One group of 12 from Atlanta, Georgia, had devised a smart way of finding each other if they got separated - by wearing matching American flag trousers.

Garel Curry (65) said the friends had been playing a few rounds themselves as well as enjoying the Open.

"It's just fantastic here. We play Castlerock tomorrow and we played at the Royal County Down. We played Lahinch before too," he added.

Martin and Norma Gault, from Moira, Co Down, were enjoying a two-week camping holiday with their three children, Ruben (6), Ezra (5) and Martha (1).

"We were hoping to get a ticket today but it fell through," said Martin.

However, Norma said there had been still plenty of entertainment for them throughout the week - spotting singer Niall Horan and actor James Nesbitt by the harbour.

Irish Independent

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