Why The Open is more than just a sports event for Northern Ireland
By the time the 2019 Open Championship (July 18-21) gets underway at Royal Portrush, it will have been 21 years since the landmark Good Friday Agreement signalled the end of the Troubles and laid the pathway for peace in Northern Ireland.
As you might expect, elite sporting events were a little thin on the ground when the region was aflame with violence in the latter half of the 20th century, so to host The Open is something that many of the citizens – and the Northern Irish love their golf – never thought would be possible.
The roads leading to the Royal Portrush Golf Club located on Northern Ireland’s rugged north coast are small and winding, perhaps not fit for the purpose of thousands of golf fans.
However, when they get there and when the play gets underway – they are in for a treat. Royal Portrush’s Dunluce Links has been regularly cited as one of the best golf courses in the world, hugging the Atlantic Ocean and overlooked by the iconic Dunluce Castle. The former is used for scenes in Game of Thrones.
68 years since The Open held outside of England and Scotland
Beautiful links courses, of course, don’t always lend themselves to pretty golf scores. The last time The Open was played in Portrush was back in 1951, with the cut at a generous +10 and only two players finishing with a score under par. Winner Max Faulkner finished on 3-under and bagged himself prize money of £300 ($360). Five-over was good enough for a top-6 finish and a hefty cheque for $25.
How will the great and the good of modern golf perform in Portrush next year? Well, there will be one player on all the locals’ minds – Rory McIlroy. The current World No. 8 has managed to simultaneously maintain his relationship with local fans – he grew up less than 100 miles away from the course – while at the same becoming one of golf’s truly global stars.
McIlroy will, of course, be desperate to win in front of an adoring home crowd. That’s reflected in the fact he has been made favourite with several top sportsbooks, with a best price coming in at 12/1 with William Hill.
Incredibly, Tiger Woods is also given the nod as top pick by a handful of sportsbooks, with 888sport going as low as 8/1 on the 14-time major winner. The ‘usual suspects’ of Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson all come in at 14/1 with 888sport, while Justin Rose is a tempting 16/1.
There will be a lot of buzz around this in Ireland and Britain. Already, you can find the top free bets in the UK at Freebets.com to use on events like the 2019 Open. It might be wise to look at them too, as some of these links courses can open the proverbial door for so-called local experts.
Players like Padraig Harrington (150/1), Shane Lowry (80/1) and Graeme McDowell (80/1) – all odds from BlackType betting – will all have played Portrush many times in the past and will be very comfortable in their surroundings. Indeed, some players, such as Marc Leishman, are suited to links golf – surely worth a 50/1 punt as a shot to nothing with a free bet?
But, despite all the attention the players will receive on the course, this event should be about the people of Northern Ireland. It’s a small region, with an area half the size of New Hampshire and a population smaller than Idaho. Yet, Northern Ireland has produced some wonderful golfers, both presently and in the past.
When Woods, Spieth and Johnson get their rounds underway at the 2019 Open, they would do well to remember that most of the fans looking on never thought it would be possible to see their heroes tee off in Northern Ireland.
Many people behind the scenes have worked hard for many years to make the dream of hosting a golf Major possible. For them, the Open will be more than just a sporting event – it will be a signpost of recognition that peace and reconciliation can be rewarded.
You can follow all of National Club Golfer’s coverage from Royal Portrush on our dedicated Open website.