From Brian Keogh at Turnberry
Open champion Padraig Harrington will be roared on by an army of more than 11,000 Irish fans when he bids for a hat-trick of Claret Jugs at Turnberry.
And that’s all thanks to an initiative by R&A chiefs, who plan to lay on free coaches to help Irish fans beat the recession and get to Ulster ferry ports for the world’s biggest major from July 16-19.
Despite the global downturn, the green golfing army is expected to invade Scotland’s west coast to see Harrington bid to become the first player to win three Opens in a row since Aussie Peter Thomson in 1956.
But there will also be huge interest from Northern Ireland as Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke tee it up alongside southern swingers Paul McGinley and Damien McGrane with more players set to earn their places through local and international qualifying.
Portrush native David Hill, the R&A’s Director of Championships, said: “We had 115,000 fans when the Open was last played at Turnberry in 1994 and we feel pretty confident that there is huge interest in this championship and we should get at least that number this year with Padraig going for three in a row and Tiger Woods not having played last year.
“When the Open is held at Troon, probably eight per cent of the crowd comes from Ireland. This time I would think it might be as many as 10 per cent.
“We hare conscious of the success of golf in Ireland at this moment in time that we are anticipating a lot of spectators coming across from Ireland to watch Padraig, Graeme McDowell, Darren, Rory and others.
“And we have set up very professional arrangements with P&O and StenaLine ferries with coaches arranged to take spectators from Stranraer and Cairnryan direct to the course.”
The R&A announced that it will be writing to all the clubs in Scotland as well as northern England clubs that are within a three-hour drive of the course, offering them subsidised coach travel to the Ayrshire links.
But they also plan to talk to the Golfing Union of Ireland about including clubs from Northern Ireland and the eastern seaboard as far south as Dublin, offering to pay £250 (€280) for each coach carrying at least 30 fans.
With accommodation almost impossible to find at Turnberry, The R&A is encouraging fans to go the Open on a day-trip with tickets costing just £55 (€62) for up to 12 hours of top action.
Harrington has certainly been a massively popular champion with the R&A, who are keen to attract as many Irish supporters as possible.
R&A boss Peter Dawson said: “Padraig’s been terrific with us. He has helped us in so many ways and is always willing to work for us within the limits of his very busy schedule.
“Some champions can be a bit remote and you don’t see much of them again but not Padraig, he’s quite the opposite.”
Turnberry has undergone major changes since Nick Price won the 1994 Open with six new tees stretching the par-70 course by 247 yards to 7,204 yards.
But Chief Executive Dawson dismissed as "media hype" a report that nearby Royal Troon had been put on stand-by because of concerns over whether renovation work at Turnberry's five-star hotel will be completed on time.
Dawson rapped: “That has absolutely never been discussed.”
From Brian Keogh at Turnberry