George the Baptist carried bags around Portrush more than 6,500 times
The rain fell on the floor and the clubs were already wet when I was on the first tee of the Dunluce Links of Royal Portrush last month
"You must avoid that bunker on the left, but you must not go well either, that is rough," warned my caddy, locally known as George the Baptist. "So really, straight through the middle is perfect."
I followed the instructions, straight and long through the middle. Nine iron to the green and a solid two-well par.
"Well done, there will still be tears before the end," giggled the extremely entertaining and skilled George, a man who has carried a bag for more than 6,500 rounds on this glorious golf course in Northern Ireland.
If you are invited to play golf at Portrush – the location for this week's 148th Open Championship – then you drop everything. It is generally regarded as one of the best 20 courses in the world.
The R & A – who leads the game in the UK – had set up the very first Open Links Invitational to highlight the unique challenge facing the world's best golfers and the return of the tournament to North To celebrate Ireland for the first time. more than 60 years.
I was linked to the beautiful Iona Stephen of Golfing World and with her off-scratch playing as a professional and I from a handicap of three we didn't have much room for mistakes.
anticipation hits you as soon as you get anywhere near the place. "Are you going to Portrush?" asked cabin crew on their way to the stairs to the plane at Manchester airport.
The taxi driver from Belfast received me with stories about some of the famous faces he had taken to the course over the years and – even a month before it all started – there were people outside the entrance to the club like to see what happened.
This Open Championship will be something else.
You have not been able to touch a card for months. All 215,000 disappeared in record time and it's all what everyone is talking about.
The Irish Open in Lahinch at the beginning of July showed the craving for golf in Ireland. So many of the professionals mentioned the enthusiastic and expert crowds and Portrush will be no different.
Every bar, hotel, guesthouse and resident in the city is ready for the world of golf to descend.
Terry Dobbin becomes caddy master for the week of the tournament and summed up the mood nicely. "We can't wait to have them here, I think they will love them as much as we do," he said.
The Dunluce links at Royal Portrush have always been rated as a great test of your game and that will certainly not change. As usual, some adjustments have been made by the authorities – such as the addition of two new holes – and wherever you look, there are great holes that offer huge opportunities and potential danger.
"It looks great, but it can make you cry," says Gary McNeill, Portrush's professional. He must be buddies with George.
Former Open champion Clarke plays new 7th hole in Portrush
There are so many holes to choose from. The fourth par fourth is a beast with its length, tight channel and a small entrance in green.
That produced my second bogey of the day, but at least the rain had stopped and I got the chance back with a bird on the beautiful descent par-four fifth.
Only 380 or so It will tempt the big boys to try and drive the green that lies on the edge of a cliff with the drop to Whiterocks a few meters behind. I chose safety. A three-wood, a wedge up to six feet and my first birdie of the day. I stopped in another at the ninth to finish the front nine in two par.
Another birdie pit fell on the 10th, this time from 12 feet, and when I skipped the green George raised his hand on. "The 14th green will wipe that smile off your face," he grinned. "There are quite a few places where you would be happy with a four putt."
Fortunately, my eight-iron in the 14th remained green at the front and I managed to get a two-putt flu
Another thing I learned from my trip , was how golf, like many of us, is becoming increasingly aware of its effect on the environment. This year the R & A have a so-called & # 39; Open Water Project & # 39 ;.
In the past, about 130,000 single-use plastic bottles would be used with each Open Championship, but by 2019 that number will be zero.
All players receive a reusable bottle for refilling and 10,000 free copies are distributed to spectators with many more available at the location. They know very well that there is still a long way to go, but it sounds like an important step forward.
I'm sure you all want to know how I'm done …
The last three holes will give a brilliant climax to the tournament.
The 235-yard par-three 16th is a textbook card destroyer. It is called Calamity Corner and many an Open Dream will end if you are short or exactly in that hole. And if you're tall or left, you won't be in shape either!
Fortunately, we played these from the front tees, so it only played 208 yards. I launched a five-iron in the air and invented it green but my 30-foot birdie-putt looked out.
The 17th is a drivable par-four for the big hitters, although well-placed bunkers will catch stray shots, while the latter is a perfect dogleg, leading to a green flanked on three sides by huge stands.
I missed a birdie putt at 17 and disappointingly I left a tiddler on the green on the latter to close a few in pretty good conditions and gather gloom.
"Well done kid," George said as we walked back to the clubhouse.
George, like everyone from Portrush, would like a local to do well.
I played at The Scottish Open last week with Graeme McDowell and he is full of challenges. Since securing his place in Portrush with a strong show at The Canadian Open, McDowell has been looking forward to a return to his golf roots.
"I would love to be myself," he told me. "I hope the game is in shape, I know the course, I love the job and winning there would be something very special."
I really think Portrush is going to give an incredible test and a great champion this week. No one can promise you that it will match the drama of the cricket world cup final, but the feeling across the wave is that the return of the Open Championship to Northern Ireland will be memorable.