British Open 2019: Watching the Open at the Harbour Bar, where Guinness and golf go hand in hand
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — The fans chorused “Shane Lowry” to the tune of “Hey Baby” at Royal Portush Golf Club on Saturday evening, while just about a mile down the street at the Harbour Bar, more than a few in the packed house shouted, “C’mon, Big Shane! Go Lowry!” cheering louder by the minute with each passing birdie.
Eight of the birdies eventually fell for a course-record 63 and a four-stroke lead going into the final round of the Open Championship for the 32-year-old Irishman.
Forgive me if the words get a little hazy. The Guinness goes down as smooth as chocolate milk in these parts, especially this week after taking in the third round not at the golf course but inside the 150-year-old pub that has become this tiny seaside town’s favorite establishment.
If it’s good enough for Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Adam Scott—all of whom stopped in at one point or another during the week—then it’s a good enough place to observe just what Lowry and what this tournament means to this country with the return of the Open for the first time in 68 years.
All you have to do is look around the place to get an idea. The Irish like a good talk, but the walls here do, too. In one spot, there’s a picture of their three kings, Rory McIlroy with his 2011 U.S. Open trophy, Darren Clarke with his 2011 claret jug and Graeme McDowell in the middle. In another, there are a handful of Open flags with dozens of autographs, while in the corner of the downstairs bar sits a replica claret jug. It’s the kind of place where barely an inch of wall space isn’t adorned with a photographs or pieces of memorabilia.
“You’ll never see a collection like this one anywhere in the world,” says the bar’s main host, Harbour Willie, also known as William Gregg, according to his business card.
Willie got his start at a young age. He used to wash glasses at the bar as a 7-year-old. He’s now 63. In between, he says he worked at a few other places, got married too often, but was always lured back to his true love.
“I love it here,” he says. “A day without Guinness is a day without sunshine.”
There are plenty of the latter in these parts, yet not on this afternoon. In warm, sun-drenched conditions with temperatures in the mid-60s, the joint fills up fast over the course of the day, many opting for a frothy pint of Guinness.
Ah, yes, the Guinness. They’ll sell a dozen kegs of it on Saturday alone, which according to Willie means they’ll stock the most Guinness per square yard of any bar in the world at one time. Seems to add up. At capacity, the Harbour Bar along with its upstairs bistro, outdoor patio and a few of the restaurant group's other establishments can hold up to 7,000 thirsty souls.
Kerry Faith, meanwhile, is one of the barkeeps who has been manning the tap for years. When he’s not pouring the perfect pint—the Harbour’s Guinness is better than most, apparently because of the short distance between the keg and the tap, leaving little “run”—he has his eye surprisingly on a few players other than Lowry, including Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood.
Speaking of Fleetwood, his birdie to tie for the lead just before 4 p.m. local time gets the attention of some. Lowry’s lipout for birdie on the second, meanwhile, elicits a groan.
It would be one of the few on this day.
Lowry birdies the third, fifth, ninth, 10th and 12th, the fervor growing louder with each. Then, he rips off three in a row, from 15 through 17, and the place is practically roiling. Fleetwood tries to keep pace, and he draws some interest from the patrons for his efforts, as do others like Koepka.
It’s not just the Irish who are here, though. Accents from all over—English, South African, Australian, etc.—fill the room. It helps that there’s a “No WiFi” sign above the downstairs bar, meaning most are left to—gasp—speak to one another instead of having their faces buried in their phones.
That includes one family of five, the Neals, from Charlotte, N.C.. They won tickets in the tournament’s lottery to be here. It was their first Open. Their early-20s daughter, Meghan, got to see Tiger Woods give her a nod of the head as he walked by after a particular good chip shot. “It was the greatest moment of my life!” she said.
Being at the Harbour Bar didn’t rank far behind, apparently.
“The people here are awesome,” her mom, Jeane, said.
They’re rooting for Koepka, whose caddie, Portrush native Ricky Elliott, is a regular at the pub and has been in throughout the week. His picture is up on the wall, too, but that’s as close as he’ll come on Saturday with tee times moved up for Sunday’s round.
Speaking of rounds, what will happen should Lowry hoist the claret jug?
Said the Irishman: “We’ll have a good night Sunday.”