Tickets almost gone for Irish Open
Next month's Irish Open golf championship at Royal Portrush is set to become a near sell-out.
With Open champion Darren Clarke, US Open champion Rory McIlroy and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell - all from Northern Ireland - lined up to play, European Tour organisers confirmed a massive demand for tickets.
Passes for the final two days, when crowds are restricted to 27,000 each day, have almost gone and more than 40,000 have already been sold for the opening two days.
The championship begins on June 28, the day after the traditional pro-am event when as many as 12,000 fans are expected on the fairways of the famous Dunluce links on the north coast.
This is the first time the Irish Open will be played in Northern Ireland since 1953 and could be the best-attended event in Europe this season, outside the Open at Royal Lytham.
Championship director Antonia Beggs said: "Over the four days we are getting near that magic 100,000-mark. We always knew it was going to be an amazing event. You've got three major winners from Northern Ireland and we knew interest would be high. But the level of interest has been fantastic, absolutely phenomenal."
Senior staff at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board are on a huge promotional offensive and even though Royal Portrush had just six months to get the venue ready for the biggest golf championship in over half a century - the Open was played there in 1951 - Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said the event was an opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland like never before.
"This is a time for us to shine right across the world. Our three golfing giants have helped us achieve that opportunity because of the way they've performed so brilliantly in the last two years," she said.
Clarke said winning the Irish Open would be special, particularly at Royal Portrush where he first played as an 11-year-old boy, and he accepted that Irish fans would have a high level of expectation. Local knowledge would be important.
Asked if he felt the Open championship would someday return to the north coast, he said: "This is obviously a stepping stone towards the bigger goal of getting the Open back here. Infrastructure-wise, it's not the easiest course (and area) to get people around. But the tour have done a wonderful job and I'm sure the Royal & Ancient are paying attention."