Tuesday 21 November 2017

North stars' joy at Irish Open switch

NORTHERN Ireland is set to stage a professional golf tournament once again following the phenomenal success of the region's golfers.

Royal Portrush Golf Club on the scenic Causeway coast will be unveiled tomorrow as the new home of the Irish Open.

The decision to move the European Tour event northward from Killarney, Co Kerry, in the Irish Republic, comes on the back of the achievements of Northern Ireland's three major winners in the last two years.

Darren Clarke's emotional victory in the Open Championship at Sandwich in Kent last summer followed the successive US Open victories of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

All three players -- McDowell and Clarke have homes in Portrush -- backed the bid to bring the Irish Open to the town's famous links course.

It is hoped that a successful staging of the Irish Open this June will add further momentum to the campaign to bring the Open Championship itself back to Northern Ireland.

The Open has only been staged in the region once before, at Royal Portrush in 1951.

But the three major wins by local golfers prompted a clamour for a return and heaped pressure on governing body the Royal and Ancient (R&A) to bring the tournament across the Irish Sea.

After Clarke's hugely popular win last year, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson pledged to look again at the issue.

East Londonderry Assembly member John Dallat said securing the Irish Open could open the way for a major return.

"Anything is now possible," he said. "Confidence at that level has now been bestowed on the club, so why not?"

Clarke and McDowell both welcomed the return of the Irish Open to Portrush.

"Fantastic news on the Irish Open 2012 coming to Royal Portrush," McDowell told his Twitter followers.

"It has always been a dream of mine to play a top event in my home town."

Clarke urged golf fans to pack the Royal Portrush fairways come the tournament in June.

"Royal Portrush will be awesome for the Irish Open this year... it's as good a test as we play anywhere!" he tweeted.

"Brilliant news. Big crowds please!!!"

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