What to expect from Practice Days at Royal Portrush
Tickets for all four days of competition at The 148th Open Championship may have nearly sold out but that does not mean you can’t be a part of Northern Ireland’s biggest ever sporting spectacle at Royal Portrush next year.
Golf’s greatest tournament returns to the Emerald Isle for the first time since 1951 next summer – marking just the second time the Claret Jug will be fought over outside of mainland Great Britain.
But The Open is so much more than just four intense days of competitive golf and the gates to one of the world’s greatest links courses actually open far earlier for the public to enjoy.
The likes of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari will start arriving on Antrim’s north coast from the Sunday before play begins and you can be there to see them.
There are four days of practice rounds and, although there is not one competitive shot hit in anger, there is always plenty to see and do.
Get up close and personal
The birdies may be meaningless and the bogeys may not be disastrous, but practice rounds are crucial for players to get right before the Championship. Players can play as many holes as they wish, getting used to the conditions and idiosyncrasies of a golf course before the competition begins in earnest on the Thursday.
And at Carnoustie the four practice days proved to be increasingly popular as fans flocked to the Angus links to watch all the stars in action. The boundary ropes were still in force but players always so much more relaxed away from the intense pressure of competition and the crowds are often a little smaller – creating an intimate atmosphere for everyone.
The likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy were all seen stopping to chat to fans this year and signing autographs on their way round, while there are always a few heavyweight groups to follow. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Jimmy Walker practiced together at Carnoustie, with Spieth relentlessly teasing Thomas after repeatedly out-driving him off the tee.
All in all, it is a perfect way of getting up close and personal with the best the game has to offer.
The Claret Jug returns
One of the highlights of Open week is the return of the Claret Jug returns live in front of the TV cameras.
One of the perks of being Champion Golfer is keeping the trophy for the entire 12 months, although with dozens of family and friends hoping to get a glimpse it can be tough to manage who gets it when. But during the Practice Days the defending champion presents it back to The R&A in anticipation of another thrilling Open Championship.
Jordan Spieth had that honour this year, walking onto the first tee in front of packed grandstands to hand it back. “When I gave the trophy back it really hit me,” he said. “The Claret Jug is the coolest trophy that our sport has to offer.”
On the range
The practice range is one of the must-visit spots at every Open Championship and it will be no different at Royal Portrush. With a grandstand behind, you can watch every booming Tiger Woods drive and deft Phil Mickelson pitch.
Again, there are ample opportunities to talk to players and get autographs, while at Carnoustie Sky Sports had a live studio with dozens of guests – including England football Harry Kane.
The Spectator Village
The golf always takes centre stage of course but there is always plenty more to see and do at The Open. The Spectator Village is a hype of activity on all eight days, with food stands offering a wide variety of options and the big screen showing everything that is going on.
However, one of the highlights is The Open Shop - where the public can get their hands on everything from headwear and apparel to outerwear, children’s clothing, luggage, homeware, leather goods and golf accessories. When the competition is on and the venue is sold out, The Open Championship shop is heaving but on practice days, there are less people and people can shop at a gentler pace – and cherry-pick the best items.