Ballywillan Men learn about Open

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MEMBERS of Ballywillan Men’s Fellowship have been given a fascinating insight into the extensive preparations being made at Royal Portrush Golf Club for the 148th Open Championship in July 2019.

The Fellowship was privileged to have as guest speaker at its weekly meeting Mr Gary M’Neill, who has been club professional at Royal Portrush, for the past 17 years and who gave a most interesting presentation on the forthcoming event.

In addition to describing the proposed major changes to Dunluce and Valley Courses, he spoke on the huge impact the event is likely to have on the area and the many benefits which would result.

Gary began, however, with a look at the historical origins of the game of golf - not surprisingly in Scotland - in the early part of the 19 th century, and told his audience that the first ever competition in what was to become the Open Championship had taken place on 17 October 1860, at Prestwick. There had been a mere eight participants, all professionals, seven Scottish and one English.

Golf in Portrush had its beginning in the 1880s, when two visiting golfers had been struck by the suitability of the local links. The speaker explaining that ”links” referred to the sandy area linking the arable land with the sea - an area previously considered as useless!

The Portrush Club was founded in 1888 but only once, in 1951, had the Open had been held at Portrush. Indeed, it was the first and only time the competition had been held outside England or Scotland and had possibility been a result of the winning of the 1947 Open at Hoylake by Portrush golfer Fred Daly, who had thus brought his home Club into some prominence.

In recent years, Royal Portrush has hosted the Senior Open on several occasions and, in 2012, the Irish Open. Gary said that it had been the huge success of these events that had finally silenced those with negative views on the ability of Portrush to join the exclusive list of nine clubs on the Open rota.

It was an event, he said, which it was predicted would attract around 250,000 people each day with an economic benefit to the area of around £100 million. In addition, £27 million of Government finance has been earmarked to regenerate and prepare the town for the major golfing event.

Expert contractors have been working at Royal Portrush since the spring of last year, creating new 17th and 18th holes as well as strengthening the character and quality of the Portrush links. The first phase of the preparation is now complete and work is proceeding on improving access roads throughout the course.

The benefits being brought to Portrush as a result of the return of the Open will be felt also in surrounding towns, with the links courses at Castlerock and Portstewart likely to be used as practice venues by the world’s leading golfers. Transport links to the area with be augmented during the period of the Open, with special shuttle bus services provided and up to five car parks created especially for the occasion. The impact on tourism, declared the speaker, was likely to be huge.

The number of questions put to Mr. McNeill by his audience was an indication of the intense interest which his talk had created. He was thanked by the Fellowship president, Dr. Michael Gardiner, for a most interesting presentation.

The speaker at this week’s meeting, on Thursday (3 November), is ornithologist Ken Perry, who will speak on The Beauty of Birds. Proceedings start informally at 10.30 in the Link area of Ballywillan Presbyterian Church Hall, Portrush, tea/coffee and chat being followed by the talk in the adjacent Octagon at 11am.

Membership of the Fellowship is open to all retired and semi-retired men, no church connection being necessary. Visitors to the talks are welcome, there being a small charge to cover speakers’ expenses.