The Open ‘switch has flicked’ as tourists flock to Portrush

By Rebecca Black, PA

A seaside town in Northern Ireland has “come to life” as The Open returns this week for the first time in over 60 years, golf fans have said.

Portrush is already a favourite local staycation destination within the region, however visitors have described the tempo as switching up a gear with international superstars such a Tiger Woods as well as local favourites Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke in town.

Extra train and bus services are bringing hordes of both golf fans as well as celebrity spotters up to the north coast this week to experience the buzz of the first Open Championship in Portrush since 1951.

Golf fans and visitors getting off the train in Portrush (Liam McBurney/PA)

Those without tickets may be missing directly seeing the action on the course on the outskirts of Portrush, but many of the top golfers have been thrilling fans with visits into the town, including Australian star Adam Scott who was seen in a local ice cream shop.

And country music star Nathan Carter among musicians giving performances on Tuesday.

Funding has been pumped into the town in advance of the golfing extravaganza, including a refurbishment for the train station, freshly painted railings and brightly coloured floral displays, as over 200,000 visitors are expected to descend this week.

Ice cream parlour Morelli’s is among many local businesses who have also made a special effort, creating an artwork depicting 2018 Open champion Italian Francesco Molinari made out of 20kg of ice cream sprinkles.

Daniela Morelli, of ice cream shop Morelli’s in front of a special commissioned art piece of the 2018 The Open winner Francesco Molinari using 20kg of ice-cream sprinkles (Liam McBurney)

Daniella Morelli, part of the fourth generation of the family that founded the company on Northern Ireland’s north coast in 1911, said visitors have loved it.

“It was a joint effort by all the family, originally it was just going to be the Claret Jug then we thought we would like to mark the fact that Franceso Molinari is the current champion, and with him being Italian, of course he was the first Italian to win the Claret Jug so we wanted to celebrate him,” she said.

“This week has been busy with lots of foreign visitors, lots of Americans, Canadians, Chinese, Japanese, South Africans, and they are all so complimentary about Portrush and how well it looks and how fantastic the coastline is.

“The buzz is great, it’s electric and it’s fantastic to be part of it.”

Golf fan John McFeely from Belfast looking forward to the action (Liam McBurney/PA)

Among scores of visitors milling around the town, John McFeely from Coleraine is among those with one of the much sought after tickets into the tournament.

“I’m delighted, so excited about it. I’ve been here yesterday and the day before but I’m so looking forward to Sunday afternoon,” he said.

“I’m watching out for all the Irish players, Padraig, Darren, Graeme and Rory, just hoping one of them is having a putt at last for the Open Championship, it would be incredible, bit of a long shot but we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

“It’s remarkable how Portrush seems to have shifted gear in the last few months, it’s like a switch has flicked and Portrush has come to life, and of course the weather improves it.

Spectators walking the course during preview day three of the Open Championship (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I think the significance is starting to sink in, non golfers, I don’t think, fully appreciate how significant it is to have the Open Championship here.”

Richard Baker, a director at Causeway Coast and Glens Council said there has been three years of preparation for the event.

“There has been a process of investing £17.5 million into Portrush for this event,” he said.

“The environmental improvement scheme in the town itself, a new train station, improved our car parking area  as well and literally those schemes concluded in the last couple of months, and now Portrush is open for business.

“It really all started back in 2012 when the Irish Open came here, we had the experience of that event, we learnt a lot from then and we then transferred that to 2017 for the Irish Open in Portstewart, and then what we have been doing is working to now to ensure that Portrush is ready to host the biggest sporting event ever in Northern Ireland, and ever on the island of Ireland.

“There is a real feel good factor, everyone is really excited, the businesses are open and it’s great we have got this really good weather as well to complement the event.”