Irish Open sucess boosts tourism
Northern Ireland's status as a must-see golfing destination has been cemented by the sell-out success of the Irish Open at Royal County Down.
Tourism minister Jonathan Bell said the competition, which attracted some of the sport's biggest names, had enhanced the region's reputation.
He said: "I can safely say Northern Ireland is well and truly on the map as a golfing destination for sports people from around the world."
Despite unpredictable and at times harsh weather conditions, crowds in excess of 18,000 flocked to the famous seaside course in Newcastle to see home-grown talent like Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke take to the fairways alongside big names like Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia.
Among the spectators on Saturday was First Minister Peter Robinson who made his first public appearance since being discharged from hospital after suffering a heart attack.
Soren Kjeldsen from Denmark eventually claimed the title after a tense finish today.
Mr Bell said: "The significance of hosting a major professional golf tournament like this lies in the opportunity it provides for showcasing our tourism product and raising our profile on a global stage.
"With the spectacular Mountains of Mourne as a backdrop, and having appeared in countless lists of the world's best courses, Royal County Down is a wonderful advertisement for Northern Ireland and a star attraction in its own right."
The success of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012, which was the first sell out in the history of the European Tour, helped convince the organisers of the Open Championship to bring it back to Northern Ireland after more than a 60 year absence.
The Royal and Ancient is set to bring its Major tournament to Portrush in 2019.
Although he failed to make the cut, McIlroy, whose charity hosted the event, said it had been a "memorable" week.
Meanwhile, senior police officers said many months of planning went into ensuring crowd safety and traffic management.
Chief Superintendent Peter Farrar said: "The success of the Irish Open was down to the many months of detailed preparation, involving a wide range of partners, and many long hours of work during the event week. Northern Ireland has once again proven beyond any doubt that it can successfully deliver a world class event."