£50m global vision for golf tourism in Northern Ireland is unveiled
Showcasing Northern Ireland's golfing talent could swing more than £50m to the region by 2020, according to the government.
Golf tourism currently brings in around £33m every year for the local economy, and is expected to get a further boost this summer when the Irish Open is hosted at Royal County Down.
It will bring golfers from around the globe to compete at the Newcastle links at the end of May.
The event will also see the world's number one-ranked player, Rory McIlroy, tee off back in his home county.
The Irish Open is to return again in 2017, and The Open Championship, the world's biggest tournament, could be played here within the next five years.
Irish golf is riding the crest of a wave, with McIlroy leading the global charge with four major championship victories.
With local sportsmen Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke also securing Open titles, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is keen to capitalise on the region's rich golfing talent and facilities as she unveils the Tourism Northern Ireland Golf Strategy.
Mrs Foster said: "The vision is to grow the value of golf tourism to £50m per annum by 2020, and in doing so to remind golfers worldwide that Northern Ireland is where golf champions are born and play.
"As a sport, as a business and as a tourism asset, golf operates on a worldwide scale so there has never been a better time for Northern Ireland, the home of champions, to formulate a new strategy to tap into its potential.
"The continuing success of our golfers, the acknowledged quality of our courses and the widespread support for the game, exemplified by the unprecedented sell-out of the Irish Open (in Portrush) in 2012, have combined to enhance Northern Ireland's status as an exceptional golf destination."
The high-spending visitors attracted to the region for its golfing heritage disperse their cash across the economy. Research suggests for every £1 they spend on green fees, they splash out a further £4 elsewhere.
And from accommodation and dining to local stores, that means golf tourism benefits Northern Ireland further afield than the putting green.
The minister said: "I am determined to see Northern Ireland tourism grow to become £1bn industry by 2020, and as golf is integral to achieving this objective, I see this strategy from Tourism NI as both timely and welcome."
The new strategy is expected to promote the region as a world-class golfing destination, highlighting its success, as well as addressing areas of weakness.
It aims to promote the destination and capitalise on Northern Ireland's current visibility and success in golf to generate more real economic value.
Northern Ireland, with a population of just 1.8m, has now produced a succession of major winners in golf, at a time when the competitive intensity at the top of the world game is at its greatest in living memory. The success of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke has energised the sport and brought a new generation of golfers to these shores.