Portrush gets £17m makeover for golf's Open Championship
With just weeks left until The Open Golf Championship tees off in Portrush, workers are beavering away to put the £17m final touches in place to ensure the town is looking picture perfect.
The town is expected to host 215,000 spectators and attract a TV audience of over 600 million during the biggest sporting event ever held in Ireland.
And Portrush is more than ready to be seen by the world.
A brand new £5.6m state-of-the-art train station is in place to welcome visitors and a £6m public realm scheme has been rolled out. Every shop front on the Main Street and beyond has had a facelift, signs have been replaced, roads resurfaced, new pavements installed and lighting and railings have been enhanced as part of a multi-million revamp ahead of the 148th Open at Royal Portrush in July.
The major regeneration programme was led and funded by the Department for Communities (DfC).
DfC Permanent Secretary Tracy Meharg said the programme was one of the last to be signed off before Stormont collapsed. She said it was a "game changer" for the north coast.
"The department's investment has really made a difference to the whole feel and appearance of the town," she said.
"All of these improvements have led to a brighter, more vibrant, better connected, safer Portrush that will serve the many visitors and residents who use the town for years to come."
Richard Baker from Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council said the regeneration package "meant everything" to the people of Portrush.
"If you look at Portrush 12 years ago, ahead of the Irish Open, it was being described in less than flattering terms," he said. "The whole street-scape and shop fronts, it was just a patchwork of material. Whereas this £17m has transformed the town.
"Now we have 600 million people in 300 countries worldwide about to watch The Open. You simply couldn't buy that publicity and positive PR."
The town's 26-year-old mayor, Sean Bateson, said he was feeling "a little pressure" about the eyes of the world being on him, but looking forward to the opportunities The Open will bring.
"The town is looking absolutely fantastic," he said. "The people here are buzzing and so positive about it all. We have one of the biggest sporting events right here on our doorstep and we are looking brilliant. I'm going to do my very best over The Open to highlight not only the north coast but the north of Ireland. So there's a little pressure on me, but I'm going to enjoy it all."
Local trader John McAfee from the Vintage Stop antiques store on Main Street said the facelift is just what Portrush needed. He has a wealth of golfing memorabilia to put in the shop window, including golf clubs from the 1800s, to attract golf fans.
"With The Open coming, we have the chance to showcase ourselves," he said. "We really needed a facelift. Portrush has been run down for a number of years. Hopefully with the influx of tourists and customers we will be sitting pretty." Andy Hill from Troggs Surf Shop across the street was able to paint his shopfront with funding. He is hoping to offer surfing lessons to any of the golfers who fancy a dip.
"With the painting and the new signage, we now look brand new," he said. "I have lived in the town for 40 years and it has never looked better." Drew McLean, manager of the Spar store in Eglinton Street said he hoped its facelift will attract Tiger Woods to sample its world famous Portrush Rock.
"We are just finishing off our facelift," he said. "It looks great, but I'm not sure how The Open will go for us. It might be quiet as the town will be blocked off and you have to have a pass to get in. But I'm sure we'll be busy in the evenings. I'm just hoping that Tiger Woods will hear about our bars of rock and come in to grab a few."
Other work that is part of the regeneration includes an Urban Development Grant scheme which will help bring derelict and vacant properties back to life and into economic use.
DfC's Tracy Meharg said that while the focus is now on work ahead of The Open, there is "more to come'"
"The Portrush Regeneration Programme is also about putting the town in a position to maximise the economic benefits that the legacy event will present," she said.
The Open takes place in Portrush from July 18 to 21.