Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Graeme McDowell on Euro mission for Northern Ireland

Graeme McDowell

US Open champion Graeme McDowell has thrown his weight behind the campaign to bring a top European Tour event to Northern Ireland.

And Darren Clarke has agreed to act as host if the Tour can be tempted to a venue like Royal County Portrush or the Lough Erne Resort.

McDowell made a stopover at Ballymena yesterday before heading to this week’s Valderrama Masters and said he believed a deal with the Tour was imminent.

“I'm confident it's going to happen, if not next year, then in the next couple of years,” he said.

“I'll certainly be on board and guys like Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke will be on board. We're up for it.

“All I would say is ‘watch this space’. There's an opportunity for someone to get involved.”

Finding a sponsor is the key to staging any European Tour event — the future of the Irish Open was only secured last year when ‘3’ stepped in to rescue the event.

“You're looking at €4million by the time you look at prize money and the hosting fee but we have an amazing product here at Royal Portrush,” said Clarke on the north coast yesterday.

“It's got everything. Links is the purest form of golf and this is the best links course in the world.

“It presents so many difficult challenges. The new tees that have been put in as well make the course much more of a modern-day challenge.”

Clarke’s manager Chubby Chandler was close to a deal to bring the British Masters to Lough Erne last year, but the deal fell through because of the lack of a main sponsor.

Lough Erne may not have the prestige of Royal Portrush, but it does have the advantage of having a five-star hotel on site.

And Sir Nick Faldo’s design in Co Fermanagh is making an impression on the golfing establishment; it has been named as one of Great Britain and Ireland’s top 100 courses in next month’s golf World magazine, the first time it has featured on such a list.

It is number 85 on the list. Royal Portrush retains its place at number seven while Royal County Down is third behind Royal Birkdale and reigning number one Turnberry Ailsa.

Lough Erne last week was named as the Golf Resort of the Year by the Ireland Golf Tour Operators Association.

It was the unanimous first choice of 16 IGTOA Tour Operators on the Executive Board, beating off intense competition from 25 of the best-known golf resorts from both sides of the border.

With his contacts and standing in the game, Clarke is in a great position to call in a few favours and help attract a top-class field to a Northern Ireland European Tour event.

With McDowell and McIlroy riding high in the top 20 in the world, there has arguably never been a better time than to try and attract a top event to this part of the world.

Although Royal County Down staged the Walker Cup magnificently in 2007 and Clandeboye staged a European Challenge Tour event in 2003, the last full-blown event to be held here was the 1953 Irish Open at Belvoir Park — well before the inception of the European Tour.

McDowell, meanwhile, says he is going full tilt at closing the €1m advantage US PGA champion Martin Kaymer has over him in the Race to Dubai championship over the next five weeks leading up to the Dubai World Championship.

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