Northern Ireland

Portrush hopes for Irish Open golf tournament windfall

Irish Open sign in Portrush
Image caption Portrush is preparing to host the Irish Open golf tournament

Portrush is a town that should be well used to receiving visitors, it could once guarantee thousands heading to its golden beaches every summer.

But the County Antrim town has gone through a difficult period. It suffered with the advent of cheap overseas travel and this, combined with lack of investment, left the place looking run down.

The Metropole Hotel became symbolic of the town's woes. It was once at the heart of this tourist mecca but in recent years its decaying shell has provided an unsightly welcome to the seaside town.

Add to this unfinished building projects and unoccupied seafront properties and it is clear to see this town needed a facelift.

'Kick start'

Some business owners, like Alice Rohdich who runs a souvenir shop, believe the Irish Open is just what Portrush needed.

"We are certainly very, very positive about the golf coming to Portrush, it has given Portrush the kick start that we have all needed and we have certainly had a lot of press both negative and positive over the past few months," she said.

The announcement that the golf competition would be held in Portrush certainly seems to have had some impact - within three months the Metropole had disappeared.

Private individuals and businesses have also taken the opportunity to spruce up their buildings.

Coleraine Borough Council has also undertaken several improvement projects such as the little public square which has been built on a former demolition site on Main Street.

The council's head of Support Services, David Jackson said: "I'd be lying if I didn't say that Portrush has suffered a little bit over the past few years.

"There's been some under investment but you'll see as you walk around the town we have a couple of major environmental schemes that have really lifted the place and I think the town is looking better than it has done for years."


But not everything the council has done has been universally welcomed.

Large trees in pots around an unfinished block of apartments have drawn criticism because they don't really hide it, several have fallen over in the wind and they are reported to have cost £26,000.

The golf cannot take the credit for all the work that has gone on in Portrush recently.

Several big projects like the redevelopment of Station Square on Kerr Street and the new East Strand promenade were underway or completed before the announcement.

Also, it was last year that Graeme McDowell put £5,000 into a pot of money raised by locals to begin painting the town's worst buildings.

It is, however, undeniable that the Irish Open has focused minds and provided a useful deadline to improve this place.

Willie Greg from the Harbour Bar believes the Open is a brilliant opportunity.

"I think what we need to do is sell Portrush hard, sell it well, embrace everybody that comes here so that they come back. If we as a town don't embrace and look after these people when they come, we've lost a big opportunity for the future, he said.


Image caption The Metropole Hotel was demolished as part of Portrush's make-over

Mr Greg added that Portrush has a new confidence and said he is looking forward to aerial footage of the town being broadcast around the world during the coverage of the Irish Open.

"There is nowhere in the world as beautiful as the north coast and if you type Portrush into the computer you only get one result - there is only one Portrush and we are going to be number one."

The effects of the golf have gone further than just Portrush. The Bayview Hotel in Portballintrae is booked out for the duration of the competition. Several golfers and officials are staying there.

Trevor Kane says they have been preparing for months.

"We are expecting to be extremely busy, we are going to have to be up at around 05:00 BST to serve breakfast and we will also have to provide food for those coming back late. We have given the place a fresh lick of paint and all the staff have new uniforms," he said.

The walls of the Bayview's bar, like the streets of Portrush, sport many pictures of the local golfers. There is no avoiding the heroes of the hour.

But what Portrush and the north coast are really hoping for is a positive legacy from the next few days.

Many have gone the extra mile to prepare for this event, with one eye on the future and the possibility that the British Open may follow.

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