Rory McIlroy, Clarke and McDowell help drive golf industry worth £130m to Northern Ireland economy
Golf is now worth more than £2.5m a week to the Northern Ireland economy, it has emerged.
The sport's popularity, boosted by the Major-winning successes of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, is highlighted by the fact that our £130m golf industry now supports more than 2,200 jobs here.
New research - the first of its kind - by the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI) highlights the considerable sum of money being spent on club membership, hospitality and equipment.
The figures for Northern Ireland, however, are dwarfed by those in the Republic, where golf enthusiasts spend nearly £328m annually pursuing their favourite past-time. Indeed, golf is responsible for 0.4% of the Republic's total consumer spending and 17% of spending on sport generally.
The Satellite Account for Golf in the Republic of Ireland study also found that there were 103,000 adult golfers in Northern Ireland, while the Republic boasts 281,000.
Dr Peter Bolan, director for International Travel and Tourism Management at Ulster University, said the potential for golf tourism shouldn't be underestimated, particularly with the Open Championship taking place at Royal Portrush in two years.
"We haven't hosted a tournament on that scale for a very, very long time and the eyes of the world will be upon Northern Ireland," he said.
"That will give us an unique opportunity to showcase what we have here and a subsequent surge in the sport's popularity will help boost other industries in the long-term.
"When all the various channels of expenditure are taken into account, golf really is quite a sizeable business that interacts with the economy in a way that many other sports don't. There is a huge potential for golf tourism in Northern Ireland now and in the years to come."
This is the first report to quantify the contribution of golf to the economy on the island.
It was co-commissioned by the CGI and the R&A (Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews), which organises the Open Championship in the UK and has a key role in governing the sport globally.
When the much-anticipated Open takes place from July 18-21, 2019 it will be the biggest sporting event ever held in Northern Ireland.
Portrush's hosting of the event in 1951 is the only previous occasion the Major was staged outside England or Scotland.
Mr Bolan added: "The successful staging of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012 strengthened the case for a return to the world-renowned seaside links."
Prior to Portrush, the Open will be staged at Royal Birkdale this year and Carnoustie in Scotland next year.
Professor Simon Shibli of the Sports Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University said the results represented "a good news story".
"People will be surprised. We often think that golf is just a sport that people play and do in their spare time but when you look at it from a different angle, from the economic perspective, it's quite eye-opening," he said.