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We can stage British Open, insist Royal Portrush

By Peter Hutcheon

The Open Championship returning to Royal Portrush has come a step closer thanks to Rory McIlroy’s brilliant US Open win.

And the message from the famous links is this: “Bring it on, we can handle it.”

The success of both the 22-year-old from Holywood and Graeme McDowell who lifted the same trophy 12 months ago, has put Northern Ireland right at the top of golf’s agenda worldwide.

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said yesterday that she was confident Royal Portrush could host a top tournament sooner rather than later.

“Rory’s win is a tremendous opportunity to attract golf tourism to Northern Ireland,” she said.

“The time for planning is over and the time for delivery is here.”

Royal Portrush secretary manager Wilma Erskine said they would jump at the chance to stage an Open.

“It would be wonderful to stage an Open here — and there’s no question we certainly could do it,” she said.

“Seeing Graeme and now Rory bringing home majors can do wonders for the game here.

“But you have to walk before you can run and the first step is to get a European Tour event and show the R&A that you can run a big event.

“We would be very happy to a host a major tournament.”

“We have recently hosted the British Ladies Amateur Open championships and the R&A (Royal and Ancient) are hosting the Senior Open Amateur Championship, so we are very much focused on tournaments.

“But with most things, funding is vital and we are working with the Government on that issue.”

Royal Portrush remains on the Open Championship list of venues having staged the tournament in 1951, but that remains the only time it was played there.

In order to stage an Open Championship, Royal Portrush would first have to play host to an Irish Open and that tournament has not been played in Northern Ireland since Belvoir Park staged it in 1953.

Staging an Open would also require an investment of millions from both private and public sources.

McIlroy, McDowell and Darren Clarke have all backed calls for Royal Portush to stage a top tournament at Royal Portrush in the past.

Royal County Down played host to the last big golf event to be held here, the Walker Cup in 2007 — when the teenage McIlroy ended up on the losing side.

And he’d certainly love to play an Open at Royal Portrush, having shot a course record 61 there when he was just 16.

Meanwhile, Darren Clarke has withdrawn from this week's European Tour event in Munich because he wants to be in Northern Ireland for McIlroy's homecoming party.

Stablemate and compatriot Clarke sent messages of encouragement to the 22-year-old as he tried for his first major title, including one before the final round saying: “Show them how good you are.”

The 42-year-old Clarke, who won his 13th Tour title in Majorca last month, did not qualify for the US Open, but will compete at next month's Open at Sandwich.

The closest he came to major glory himself was finishing second at Royal Troon in 1997, three strokes behind American Justin Leonard.

Belfast Telegraph

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