Belfast Telegraph

Irish Open promises a spending splurge of £19m for north coast

Shops and cafes keen to attract visitors away from course amid rule change

By John Mulgrew

Businesses are hoping that a change to the rules at the Irish Open will help the tills ring louder this year, amid claims that up to £19m could be spent on Northern Ireland's north coast this week.

Organisers are expecting 90,000 visitors to the tournament, which tees off at Portstewart Golf Club on Thursday and continues until Sunday.

Some of the sport's biggest stars, including Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, are descending on the small Co Londonderry coastal town this week.

When the Irish Open was held at the nearby Royal Portrush in 2012, traders had been planning for weeks about how to cater for the deluge of customers expected into the town.

But a rule back then stopped visitors from being readmitted to the tournament if they left during the day.

That has now been changed, however, so those visiting can leave the tournament and head in to town.

Tourism NI is predicting 90,000 visitors over the week.

And economist John Simpson said that could equate to "local spending" of up to £19m.

That's based on an average spend of around £100 per day, for a two day stay.

There will be restrictions in place on some roads in and around Portstewart Golf Club, including Burnside Road, Strand Road, and Prospect Road.

Donal Doherty, the owner of Harry's Shack - once named the top restaurant in Ireland - said that while he's expecting to see a downturn in trade during the day, as his business sits just metres away from the Strand golf course on the beach, overall, the positive impact is "nothing short of terrific".

"The thing for us, since day one, when we heard of the road closures, we would have got nervous.

"Since it was announced, almost instantly, we saw a surge in higher numbers of US and Belgian (golf visitors).

"Over the long haul, this will be nothing but spectacular for Portstewart. We will be lucky to be as busy as we would normally be. You can't get (parked) within half a kilometre of us.

"It's so well organised though, and I have to commend them for that.

"It's nothing short of terrific. We have three of the top 15 golfers booked in here. The place looks fantastic. The things that were unsightly have been tidied up."

Asked about his restaurant suffering a hit to its business during the day, Mr Doherty said: "You just take it on the chin.

"We will be quieter in the day, but make up for it at night time. We are delighted."

He said the award-winning restaurant has also just invested £45,000 on an outside bar to meet demand for the droves of visitors expected each day once play finishes in the late afternoon.

Damien Morelli, director of ice-cream shop Morelli's of Portstewart, is confident business will be strong.

He says he "hasn't heard any negative comments" from businesses at Portstewart's promenade.

"They seem to have it very well-organised," he said.

Buses are set to ferry visitors to and from the course, with shops and cafes hoping for an increase in footfall.

Mr Morelli said: "(The buses) combined with the fact people are able to get in and out - we have seen an increase already. It's hard to know what to expect, but it's busy already.

"The main road into the town isn't really affected, those towards the beach are closed. I think it will be a very busy week for us, and busier than normal."

John McGrillen, Tourism NI chief executive, said: "Northern Ireland is the home of world-class courses, world-class players, and world-class golf events, and that is the message we will be showcasing all through this week and beyond.

"Over 90,000 visitors, including 10,000 from out of state, are expected at Portstewart and the surrounding areas of the Causeway Coastal Route."

The lessons of Portrush have been learnt in Portstewart, according to tournament director Michael Moss.

"People want other things to do as well as watching golf," he told the Belfast Telegraph last month.

"But this year spectators will be encouraged to go into Portstewart where there's lots on and it's hoped that a shuttle bus can be arranged."

Economist Andrew Webb said the "economic impact could be significant if the event draws people to it that would have been elsewhere and only come for the golf, or locals that have stayed here for the golf.

"So, we'll be looking for hotel occupancy levels going up in the area, and pubs and restaurants gaining. It wouldn't be unreasonable to think the impact will be similar to the North West 200."

However, he said some references to the "global audience reach" are "questionable".

Belfast Telegraph