Calls for Portrush to host Open

The recent success of Northern Ireland’s golfers has renewed calls for the Open to be hosted in the region.

The recent success of Northern Ireland’s golfers has renewed calls for the Open to be hosted in the region.

Only once has the Championship been held in Northern Ireland – at Royal Portrush on the north coast in 1951 – and with the recent performances of golfers like Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, who each now have a US Open title to their name, the campaign to bring the Open back to the region has been given added impetus.

Being able to host the Open is a rare honour, with only 14 courses having staged the event in 139 previous outings, but with Northern Ireland now boasting successive US Open champions, politicians and tourism officials from the area believe the time is right for the event to return to its shores.

Royal Portrush is once again being touted as a possible venue, with the course still rated as one of the finest in the British Isles.

Club officials are currently working with the Stormont administration in an effort to bid for the Irish Open, and insist any issues regarding infrastructure for an event like the Open can be overcome.

The first opening in the tournament rota is in 2016.

Royal Portrush secretary-manager Wilma Erskine said that financial assistance would be required from the government to help with the staging of the event.

“We would be very happy to a host a major tournament. We have recently hosted the British Ladies Amateur Open championships and the R&A (Royal and Ancient) are hosting the Senior Open Amateur Championship here, so we are very much focused on tournaments,” she said.

“But with most things, funding is vital and we are working with the Government on that issue.”

Not that the funding wouldn’t have positive effects down the line, according to Robert Cully, director of business development at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board: “Successful golf events have significant potential in attracting visitors to Northern Ireland and in bringing financial benefits to the local economy.

“Golf tourism currently contributes approximately £13-14 million to the economy here. Following Rory’s Major win at the weekend and Graeme’s success at the US Open last year, the positive PR that is generated for Northern Ireland on a global stage is creating unprecedented interest in our golf offering.

“The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has supported many golf events in the past, including the Senior British Open and Irish Ladies Open, and we are currently working with Galgorm Castle (in Ballymena) to host the PGA EuroPro event for the second successive year.

“We will continue to focus on attracting high-quality golf events here, to improve our golf offering to tourists and to ensure we can capitalise on the current international focus on Northern Ireland golf.”

Local Assembly member David McClarty also agreed that the pros of hosting an Open Championship at Royal Portrush would far outweigh the cons.

He said: “People use the argument that there’s not enough accommodation in the area, well that’s nonsense. Look at St Andrews. It’s a relatively small place. Golf fans have proved they are prepared to travel miles to see the Open, and in Northern Ireland you are never more than two hours from anywhere, so there is plenty of accommodation throughout the country.”

The independent MLA was left in no doubt that McIlroy and McDowell’s successes could give a huge boost to tourism.

He said: “I think there a huge opportunity here for us. In successive years we have had two golfers win the US Open. People in America and elsewhere are now saying: What’s so special about Northern Ireland that it can produce two champions from such a small place? Let’s go and explore what’s going on there.

“Golfing breaks are big business and this is a wonderful opportunity for us to exploit.”