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Open Championship has Portrush locals relishing chance to shine on world stage

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 21/10/2015

US golfers Bruce and Dwight Price
US golfers Bruce and Dwight Price
Ann Donaghy, general manager of the Ramada Hotel
Dorothy Glass from Bushmills
Jennifer O’Kane of the Royal Court Hotel in Portrush
Geoffrey McKillop of Lily’s Place in Bushmills

The north Antrim sky may have been grey yesterday, but it felt like rays of pure gold were shining on Portrush as the town celebrated a multi-million pound golfing windfall.

After it was confirmed that The Open Championship would be hosted at the famous Royal Portrush Golf Club in July 2019, businesses welcomed the news.

The Open will present the popular seaside resort on the world stage.

Local retailer and councillor Norman Hillis, who owns R and J Hillis department store, spoke of his delight that his home town will host the biggest sports event to be held in Northern Ireland.

"I'm virtually jumping for joy, it's a fantastic prospect and I didn't think this day would ever come," he said.

"Five years ago I was told that we didn't have the infrastructure or hotel base, but I said that people didn't have to stay over in Portrush."

Ian Donaghy, chairman of Coleraine Chamber of Commerce, which takes in Portrush, said: "We have already benefited from the Irish Open being here in 2012, and the fact that there is a predicted £70m economic benefit is not just good news for Portrush and the north coast, but the whole of Northern Ireland."

Ann Donaghy, general manager of the 69-bedroom Ramada Hotel in the town centre, said: "I'm absolutely ecstatic about The Open coming to Portrush .

"This is an absolute privilege for Royal Portrush to host this. It will put us on another level."

But there were some murmurings about a certain lack of economic delivery from the Irish Open in 2012. Jennifer O'Kane, proprietor of the Royal Court Hotel, said: "Most of the traders would say that they did not get much spin-off during the Irish Open as spectators were not allowed out into the town.

"But I hope that the organiser R&A will be more relaxed about allowing access into the town.

"What I'm interested in is seeing improvements and investment in infrastructure, such as an extension of the fibre optic internet cable by BT to the hotel and four other businesses here."

Royal Portrush president Hugh Clarke said: "Sadly, I won't be president when The Open is held but I'm delighted and proud that Royal Portrush has been chosen to host The Open for the first time in nearly 70 years."

Four US golf tourists yesterday could not believe their luck at getting to play on the course some of their idols have graced, as well as seeing winner Darren Clarke in the flesh.

The fathers and sons - Mike and Luke Adams from Seattle, Washington, and Dwight and Bruce Price from Lexington, Kentucky - said that they would not have missed the chance of playing at Royal Portrush on their week-long golfing tour around the island.

In the town, Jo Allen was enjoying a quiet drink in Ramore's public bar. Born and raised in Portrush, he said: "I'm not a golfer but it will be nice to see the town buzzing and the restaurants will do well."

Golfer Rory Hamilton, a member of the Royal Portrush and Ramore Golf Clubs, said: "It's absolutely tremendous news. Even though it's four years away, there is already a real buzz about the place and real expectation."

Just seven miles away in Bushmills hopes were high for an upswing in business fortunes - despite the reality of empty premises on the main street.

Geoffrey McKillop, owner of Lily's Place restaurant and a chip shop, said: "This is great news for all the area, and the whole of Northern Ireland. I think Bushmills is changing and I have every confidence that a lot of empty businesses will be open and running again by the time the event is held."

Shoppers Dorothy Glass and Rosemary Dobbin were equally pleased about the news.

Dorothy said: "It's got to be good news for the whole of the area and I'm sure visitors will visit Bushmills to see the distillery."

Rosemary from Portballintrae added: "It will bring a lot of life to the whole area, just like the Irish Open did as we had visitors from all over the world in Bushmills."

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