Dawson: Ulster's army of golf fans deserve this shot at the big time
The Northern Ireland public can take a bow after it was confirmed yesterday that the Open Championship is returning to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951.
The public's enthusiastic backing of the 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush was cited as a huge factor in the greatest tournament of them all coming back to these shores – only the second time it will ever have been played outside England and Scotland.
The Open could be played here as early as 2019 although golf chiefs did admit yesterday that it could be a year or two later than that.
But Royal Portrush has finally joined the nine other clubs on the Open rota.
And those record-breaking crowds of two summers ago really turned heads at the Royal & Ancient, keepers of the Open Championship.
More than 130,000 people flocked to the tournament, crowds unheard of for a European Tour event. Royal Portrush has also successfully staged the Senior Open six times and is currently hosting the Amateur Championship.
"There is an incredibly strong fanbase for golf in Northern Ireland which was highlighted by the 2012 Irish Open," said R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson.
"That was one of the tipping points in the decision to bring the Open back to Royal Portrush.
"Another factor was the architect assuring us that required changes to the course could be done in a suitable way.
"We had a lot to do at Hoylake when the Open was first played there and there is probably slightly more to be done at Royal Portrush.
"The gap from the last time the Open was played at Royal Portrush is over 60 years.
"It is a fantastic links course but requirements for staging a major are very different now compared to what they were then.
"We have spent large sums at other venues and that's what we will be doing here.
"The R&A will spend several million pounds bringing the course and infrastructure to the required standard."
First Minister Peter Robinson, who also attended yesterday's big announcement, confirmed that major financial backing will come form the Northern Ireland Executive as well. "We will be putting millions of pounds into the staging of the Open Championship, but the return on that investment will be at least tenfold," he said.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, speaking at yesterday's announcement, said: "I am delighted that a world class event will be taking place here – the people here love their sport and their golf.
"This is a tremendous vote of confidence coming so soon after the Giro d'Italia and the World Police and Fire Games."
Northern Ireland really can claim to be the world capital of golf now with four Majors shared between Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell since 2010 – Fred Daly's Open triumph in 1947 is Ulster's only other Major – and the Irish Open being staged at Royal Co Down next year and Lough Erne Resort in 2017.
And now, to top it all, comes the Open Championship – the most glamourous golf tournament of them all.