The course was the winner this week. Preconceived notions that Galgorm Castle would be a birdie-fest and a race to become the first to shoot 59 were quickly dispelled as Major champions and others heaped praise on this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open venue.
Tournament golf has been played at Galgorm Castle for a decade as the perennial home of the Northern Ireland Open and the ISPS Handa World Invitational. Those in the know were already aware of the immaculate putting surfaces and the perils of straying offline around the tree-lined parkland.
Galgorm Castle has long been a favourite with players and officials when playing host to the Northern Ireland Open and one of the most popular stop-offs on the European Challenge Tour. Perhaps the step up to full European Tour status caught people off guard, thinking it would be a soft scoring week for the big boys on tour?
They don’t come any higher profile than Open Champion Shane Lowry, who despite bowing out early at Galgorm, was one of many players and commentators who admired the quality of the course.
“This might be the toughest course I’ve played on the European Tour,” said Lowry.
Perhaps Sky Sports commentator Wayne Riley summed it up best when he said: “Before we got here, some people thought the golf course was open and pretty average. They couldn’t be more wrong, this golf course is magnificent, it truly is. If you haven’t been here, it’s a must. It is a fitting venue for the Irish Open.”
Riley’s colleague at Sky Sports and former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley went on to highlight the quality of the greens.
“The greens were running at 12.5 (on the stimpmeter) this week, that’s Augusta speed. Normally on tour they run closer to 10.5 or 11. Full credit to the greenstaff at Galgorm who presented the course in wonderful condition.”
Unfortunately, three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington also succumbed early to the challenges but enjoyed his time at Galgorm.
“Still a lot to smile about,” said the Dubliner. “It’s a really nice golf course, a good test, well ahead of expectations…Particularly enjoyed Galgorm Resort, it’s well worth a visit.
“Through the years I have been coming up to Northern Ireland. You always get a great welcome and you know the courses are as good as anywhere. I was impressed with the course at Galgorm and the hotel is super as well,” added Harrington.
With the rough so “juicy” for the Irish Open, some players who flew in from the US Open likened the conditions to Winged Foot the previous week.
“I’m hugely impressed, it’s a really good golf course,” said South Africa’s Justin Harding, who missed the cut at the US Open. “Galgorm places a premium on driving and keeping your ball in play. It has a really good mix of holes and is a tough course to score on.
“To be honest, I came here thinking it was going to be easy, but it’s far from it. It’s a great test. Anything under par around here is a good score, especially when the wind blows.”
Harding’s compatriot Dean Burmester added: “This is one of those golf courses where you need a US Open mentality. It’s slightly easier but you still need that grind it out mentality.”
At just under 7,100-yards, length was never going to be Galgorm’s defence against today’s modern bombers. Instead, strategy and strict avoidance of the penal rough were key to success.
This week’s low round came from Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, who carded a final round 63 to jump up the leaderboard and inside the top 10. Former Northern Ireland champions, Ryan Fox (2016) and Joakim Lagergren (2014), both shot 62s during their respective wins at Galgorm.
The “59-watch” from certain sections of the media quickly evaporated as the week went on and Galgorm bared its teeth. Even the cows in the field across the River Braid knew the calibre of the course as they looked on.
The entire Galgorm Resort and tournament setup was well received this week, as evidenced in tweets by likes of Victoria Drysdale, wife, manager and caddie to player David. “I have to say that the Food & Service in the Player & Caddie Dining area this wk has been outstanding @GalgormCastle @GalgormResort your hospitality was fantastic, Thank you to all the staff for looking after us! @DDFIrishOpen @EuropeanTour #topclassfood #topclassservice.”
John Catlin backed up his recent win in Valderrama to take the spoils at Galgorm with a closing 64 for a 10-under winning total. He continued the American winning theme in Ballymena by joining compatriot Tyler Koivisto, who won the Northern Ireland Open at the same venue earlier in the month.
After a historic week for Galgorm Castle, the sense now is the course also received the credit it deserves and proved to be a more than worthy Dubai Duty Free Irish Open venue.