Life throws up a few unexpected surprises now and again and that was the case this past week.  I received a call asking me to go over to my home town of Portstewart to do a little bit of filming for a Northern Ireland Tourist Board documentary that will be coming out next spring.  Obviously there are tons of attractions that hook in the visitors to Norn Iron but golf is, predictably, a big part of it all and the brief included a retrospective look at the Open Championship.

Back in my beloved Portstewart – where it all began.

As I was winging my way on my orange-and-white-liveried flight from Liverpool into Belfast I was thanking my lucky stars that everything was up to time.  I was on a tight schedule to pick up a hire car and get down to Portstewart strand where the rest of the crew would be waiting for me.  Hold on, I thought, as I looked out the window and saw we were coming in to land at Aldergrove – I’ve not brought my driving licence with me.  I’d changed handbags, as you do, and my licence was residing in my bag at home.  So, after four decades of being a seasoned traveller here was a real rookie error.  I knew a passport wouldn’t cut it and that, essentially, no driving license meant no hire car.

So, in a nanosecond, an easy, enjoyable trip suddenly acquired high stress levels because of my own oversight.  I hot-footed it to the car hire desk and was more than a little gratified to discover that one phone call to the DVLA would sort it all out and I was assured that “this happens every single day”.  Phew!

As I waited for everything to be processed I had time to cast my eye around the airport.  On my last visit in April I had grumbled profusely about the state of the place, so it behoves me now to say how pleasantly surprised I was to see it spruced up, a lot cleaner and a great deal more welcoming.  It obviously had nothing to do with me but a hearty well done to all concerned.

It was more than a little strange for me to find myself an hour later down on the beach at Portstewart in Harry’s Shack, one of a growing band of eating establishments acquiring a sound reputation.  The last time I’d stood in that building was more than fifty years ago and Mum and Dad were buying me a bucket and spade, a plastic windmill and a 99 cone.  If only they could see it now!  A bustling, beach bistro reminiscent of the Riviera with the sun making an appearance and periodically splitting the skies.  What a great way to spend a Monday!

Lights, camera, action!  From left to right, Graham, Shane, Wendy and Mo

My colleagues for this round table discussion were producer and presenter Graham Little, of NPE Media Ltd; Wendy Gallagher of Causeway Coast Foodie Tours; and long-time friend, fount of knowledge of all things golf and esteemed broadcaster,Shane O’Donoghue.  Harry’s Shack served us a delicious lunch – we all chose different seafood dishes – and the weather played ball as regards the filming.  It was great food and great company and gratifying to learn of the positive drive and enthusiasm being harnessed in order to continue bringing visitors in to this wee corner of the world.  It’s nice to be in the news for the right reasons after so many decades of making the news headlines for the wrong ones.

The following day I had the opportunity for a quick catch-up with Michael Moss, former secretary manager of Portstewart Golf Club, now retired and masquerading off a 13 handicap when he was off four a blink of an eye ago.  He joined forces a couple of years ago with Peter and Jackie Alliss in their continued quest to raise funding in order to present wheelchairs to disabled children during the Open Championship.  This year there were three proud recipients and this will have been life-changing for them all.  Congrats to Peter and Jackie for such a sustained, long-term, personal effort.

Life-changing scenes and as ever, the recipients have centre stage, the Allisses in the wings. [Courtesy of Michael Moss]

On my way back to the airport at the end of my whirlwind trip I was interested to see some yellow AA signs appertaining to the Open still in place.  There weren’t many, just a few, but these were superseded by a plethora of new yellow AA signs for this week’s ISPS Handa World Invitational taking place at Galgorm Castle and Massereene Golf Clubs and backed by Niall Horan’s Modest! Golf management company.  This event sees men and women competing on the two courses over four days for equal prize funds.  It’s impressive to realise that the success of the Open a mere four to five weeks ago does not mean it’s time to rest on our laurels.  There’s much to be proud of on this island of ours.

Stephanie Meadow, one of our home-grown stars, is relishing being able to compete in Northern Ireland. [Photo courtesy of PressEye.]

A final postscript, which I know many of you will enjoy – a picture of my latest Irish discovery.

Worth a try!

Unfortunately, it can only be bought in Ireland and I was unable to bring any home as I was travelling with hand luggage only.  Next time……