Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster 'struck deal to bring Open to NI in just 15 minutes'

By Kate Buck

It took just "15 minutes" for former First Minister Arlene Foster to agree a deal to bring the Open golf tournament to Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

The event in July 2019 is expected to generate more than £120m for the economy.

Wilma Erskine (59), the secretary/manager of the Royal Portrush Golf Club, is tasked with organising the tournament.

She revealed it was a simple task to get Mrs Foster on board. "Arlene has a big understanding of golf and its tourism benefits and quickly realised the potential for the economy in the worldwide media coverage The Open will generate," Wilma said in an in-depth interview in today's Belfast Telegraph.

The event will be the first time the Open has come to Northern Ireland since 1951.

Some 50,000 people are expected to go through the club gates during each day of the tournament, and a further 600 million are expected to watch it worldwide. Golfers are expected to spend over £600 a day on green fees, food, drink and accommodation - over 10 times the £40 that standard tourists spend each day.

Even though The Open is two summers away, Wilma is busy planning, hosting fact-finding tours and drawing up itineraries.

She is also preparing for the arrival of construction teams who will erect a 20,000-seat grandstand, hospitality village and media centre.

Wilma said people might not think that there is much that needs organising yet.

She added: "It's understandable as 2019 seems a long way away right now, but I don't think people have quite grasped the magnitude of what's coming our way.

"In terms of numbers and prestige, The Open at Royal Portrush will be on a scale unparalleled in this country.

"The sporting, social and economic benefits will be enormous, creating a legacy for generations to come.

"That is why we are working so hard here, not just at the club, but on all strands of the organisation locally, to ensure we are ready and that it will be a success. We are here for the love of golf."

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