As soon as Grant Moir crept over the crest of the hill that leads into Portrush, he fell in love: with the coastline, the Atlantic Ocean and the golf club that is hosting The 148th Open.
The small, Antrim town is hidden from view, just two miles up the coast from the Giants Causeway – a World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northern Ireland. But this week, Royal Portrush is hogging the limelight as host of The 148th Open.
Moir’s day job is Director of Rules at The R&A but he is also part of the team involved in course set-up for The Open, as well as other R&A events such as The AIG Women’s British Open.
For the past four years, since Royal Portrush was announced as host to The Open, he has been helping to ensure the Dunluce links are in perfect shape to present to the world’s best golfers.
With dramatic scenery to rival any golf club in the world, a notorious prevailing wind that will test every player’s patience and some of the most challenging holes in links golf – it is no wonder Moir has been counting down the days to the event itself.
“It is a staggering piece of land and we all feel the same way when we come here. Every time we drive over the top of the hill and look down, it is a pleasure to see it,” he said.
“The first time I came here was when we were over for a joint-rules meeting with the USGA and I arrived in the evening, drove over the hill and it was the first time I had ever seen it. I was just desperate to get out there.
"I set the alarm for about 5.30 the following morning and came out to walk the course. It is a beautiful piece of land. Everyone will love it.”
Moir’s job is to set up the course for the best players in the world and provide a sufficient challenge for Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari and co.
He is regularly joined by R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers, Chairman of the Open Championships Clive Brown and Rules Manager Danny Sommerville – who have been making regular trips to the course since 2015 – to cast their eye over progress of the tees, greens and the two new holes.
“The first time I came was before it was decided Royal Portrush was going to host. We had meetings nearby and so I played it,” added Moir.
“At the time there was talk of a possible change to bring in two new holes to replace 17 and 18. I started coming more frequently ahead of The Amateur Championship in 2014 and that is when there was a lot of talk going on about hosting.
“During all of these visits, we are looking at hole positions and tee positions. We are looking at little areas we might want to adjust.
“We arrive here a week in advance of the Championship and that is when we plot everything out in detail, all our hole positions and tee positions and we are devoted to it for a two-week period.”
Moir first started working with The R&A in January 1994. He has been part of the Rules Committee at The Open since 1996, has refereed the three US majors, was chief referee when golf made its debut at the Youth Olympics in 2014 and refereed at the Olympics in Rio in 2016.
The feeling of the unknown
But it’s Open Week which really gets the heart racing, with the thrill of golf’s original Championship impossible to top.
Moir works closely with Royal Portrush Course Manager Graeme Beatt and his team and now the big event is here, they will work round the clock.
“My first Open as part of the team looking at hole positions was in 2009,” explained Moir. “I was involved before that in other aspects of course set-up but prior to that we had two members of the Championship Committee who did it.
“When you come back somewhere that has not had it in so long, like we had at Royal Liverpool in 2006, the enthusiasm of the club and the people is there for all to see. It is that feeling of the unknown. It is new and exciting for all of us because we have not experienced an Open here.”
Not many players have experienced playing the Dunluce Course either and there has been much intrigue as they’ve first arrived at the club.
The R&A team know how they want the course to be presented and have ideas of hole locations, depending on the weather – including the 18th on Sunday, where the 2019 Champion Golfer of the Year will take centre stage.
“There is always a really good feeling when the green staff cut and paint the hole on 18th on the last day. The leaderboard show the players who are in contention and inevitably it is great,” he added.
“We feel like we have done our job and now it is time to watch how it all unfolds. That feels really good at that moment.
“There is still a big day ahead and you have to be on your guard until the Claret Jug is presented but it feels special when that last hole is cut.”
There’s a real sense of enjoyment about what Moir does in setting up the course for The Open and the excitement for the return to Royal Portrush this week feels comparable to golf fans across the world.