Hordes of passionate golf fans smiled off heavy bursts of rain for the first day of the Irish Open in Newcastle, Co Down on Thursday.
Even world number one Rory McIlroy’s disappointing performance hardly dented morale, as the 20,000 fans all came well equipped with all manner of waterproofs and huge umbrellas.
By 5pm only around 1,000 of the 20,000 ticketholders for the day had yet to appear at the world class Royal County Down Golf Club.
Colin Hassard from Banbridge typified the determination to enjoy the day and drink in elite sporting skills up close.
“I have two different types of hats – all eventualities have to be covered unfortunately for a day like this,” he said.
“But it isn’t spoiling the enjoyment, it has been great, we enjoyed it enormously
“It is a great course, it really is, but very tricky as we noticed the scores going through. Nobody is ripping the course up as they say. It is all pretty much a case of damage limitation in some cases.
“They are obviously finding it challenging, no doubt about that.”
He plays at Banbridge Golf Club off a handicap of “twentysomething”. “So let’s say that these guys are good; I am admiring a lot of the skills that I am watching and I am sympathising with some of the shots I am seeing as well.
“It is quite a good education to watch the world’s top players come and play shots that you think – wow – I could not have done that; I would not even have thought of that.”
Ronan and John Kavannagh travelled up from Wicklow just for the day, and were enthralled by the setting.
“It is the course and even the background, the scenery, the whole thing is absolutely fabulous – and very well set up too,” John said. “It is very nice.”
The rain dampened their enthusiasm only “very slightly”, he added.
“The bad weather seems to pass away very quickly – it gets over the Mournes and it is gone in a flash, so it doesn’t last long,” he smiled.
Michael and Brid McCaverty from Omagh came to “soak up the atmosphere”.
“We have come just to have a nice day, nothing particularly in mind, eat some nice food and walk around,” John said. “Brid is a keen golfer and won three prizes in the last week,” he said, but she quickly added that they were “off a high handicap”.
Neville Ferguson is braving the elements more than most fans, sleeping under canvass alone in Tollymore Forest Park for a bargain £10 per night.
“There was supposed to be four or five of us and then the Foo Fighters are playing Slane so I lost a few [friends],” he added.
He too plays off a handicap in the low twenties.
The elements alternated between bright sunshine and heavy rain from low grey clouds sweeping down off the Mourne Mountains throughout the day.
When it was bright, the crowds milled about the golf village basking in the air, sampling the wares from the various hospitality tents.
As the rain swept in they huddled under the many parasols and business marquees, but there was not a word of complaining.
At one point the play had stopped and hundreds of fans came swarming towards the hospitality tents like a wave of marauders.
Meanwhile, in Newcastle itself, earlier in the week a range of hospitality businesses had related to the News Letter how the influx of 100,000 people over the week has already proven to be a huge boost for the local economy.
But privately a number of people said yesterday that there was actually a negative impact for businesses that are not in the hospitality trade.
One said: “There are plenty of visitors but they are not really in the mood to buy any of our goods. They are certainly interested in eating and drinking and those businesses are doing very well.”
Another, throwing his hands up in the air, added: “We would normally have four staff on to cope with our normal trade but today the shop is empty and we have two staff on.
“Locals assume that the town will be too busy to get parked so they are not coming in to do their normal weekly shopping.”
Ticket sales have shown that 28 per cent of spectators are coming from the south, four per cent from GB and one per cent from the rest of the world.