Northern Ireland

Royal Portrush to host golf's Irish Open

The Irish Open golf championship will be held at Royal Portrush Golf Club this summer, it has been confirmed.

Senior officials of the European Golf Tour made the announcement at Royal Portrush on Friday afternoon.

The tournament will start in the last week of June and finish on 1 July.

The last time the north coast course staged a major competition was the Open in 1951, while the last time the Irish Open was played there was in 1947.

The Irish Open last came north of the border in 1953, when it was played at south Belfast's Belvoir Park Golf Club.

Among those taking part in Friday's press conference were Open champion Darren Clarke and Tourism Minister Arlene Foster.

Open champion Clarke said it was "a huge day" and one of the sport's premier tournaments was coming to "one of the best courses in the world".

He said other players had already been asking him about the course and where the best places to stay were.

"Twitter has gone crazy. I don't know who leaked the story, but it wasn't me," he added.

"It's going to be an unbelievable week.

"To be here as Open champion playing in the Irish Open at Portrush - it doesn't get much better than that. It will be a very proud moment for me."

Mrs Foster said she was "absolutely delighted" that Portrush would host the event.

'Grab the opportunity'

The business community in the Portrush area has also welcomed the news.

Naldo Morelli of Morelli's Ice Cream said a joint effort was needed to improve the town's facilities and appearance.

"I think everybody has to work together for the betterment of the town and really grab this opportunity," he said.

"We've lots of things to focus on so let's all get together and work positively in one direction towards improving the town and making it a better visitor attraction."

Image caption Tourism Minister Arlene Foster and Open champion Darren Clarke announced that the Irish Open was coming to Royal Portrush

In July of last year, Tourism Minister Mrs Foster confirmed the Northern Ireland Executive would provide financial assistance to help bring a major tournament to Royal Portrush.

Northern Ireland's profile in the golfing world has been hugely raised by recent major victories for Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

McIlory said he was keen to try to win in his home country.

"It's nice to come home and support your home tournament and maybe bring a little bit of joy back to people's lives by playing your home event, so I'm looking forward to getting there and trying to win it," he said.

McDowell said he was totally behind the event coming to his home town.

"It's tough times here in Ireland so sponsors are hard to find, but Irish golf has never been stronger," he said.

"We are 100% behind anything we can do to make the Irish Open in Portrush the best it can be."

Clarke's manager Chubby Chandler told Radio Ulster the tournament would attract a global audience.

"I think it will be around the world because Royal Portrush is such a famous golf course all over the world," he said.

"A lot of people will have played it, so there will be an awful lot of interest in what goes on here in June.

"The golf course deserves it, Darren deserves it. I think Darren has had a huge part to play in it and the fact he won the Open has probably brought it forward by a year, maybe even more."

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