The Open's coming to Portrush but will seaside town be ready to stage golf's most prestigious event?
It's official – The Open is coming to Northern Ireland.
But no date has been set to give Royal Portrush and the surrounding area time to get ready to host one of the biggest events in world golf.
As part of the long-term preparation for The Open to be hosted in Northern Ireland, the Royal Portrush course needs to be rebuilt while local infrastructure also needs to be brought up to date to cope with catering for hundreds of thousands of golf fans.
Peter Dawson of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A), which organises The Open, confirmed yesterday that Northern Ireland was now on the rota of host clubs.
However, he could not say when the event will take place.
"Much work lies ahead to prepare for The Open's return; there are planned course enhancements and infrastructure development which will require ratification by the club's members and by the planning authorities, and so we will not be able to announce a date for the first event until these permissions are in place," he explained.
"2019 is the earliest it can be, but it may be that we have to wait a year or two longer than that."
The R&A and the Northern Ireland Executive will invest millions to prepare for the return of The Open, but yesterday, at the official announcement, would not confirm exactly how much.
Mr Dawson said he expected that every time the championship is held at Royal Portrush, it will generate £70m for the local economy.
Plans are in place for changes to the course, but these must be approved by club members before they are made public.
It is believed the changes will focus on the course's 17th and 18th holes.
And while First Minister Peter Robinson said he hoped to see more top class hotels by the time The Open arrived and improvements to roads, he did not specify what sort of work may be carried out.
"We can get very parochial in Northern Ireland and think that you have to have something on the doorstep. Many people may well want to base themselves around the Belfast area, while others will look to hotels which are here," he said.
"I would hope that by the time we get to The Open arriving we have a few more top class hotels in the area.
"Undoubtedly, there are always improvements that can be carried out in terms of the roads.
"I have no doubt we'll be able to have the province-wide infrastructure that will satisfy this kind of event.
"Don't forget, we have had many major events, such as the Giro d'Italia – which was a major operation dealing with the roads – the G8, World Police and Fire Games.
"This isn't something that is new to us, we have got the experience to carry out the preparation for this kind of event."
It emerged yesterday that Northern Ireland had triumphed over stiff competition from across the UK to host The Open.
The R&A has come under considerable pressure from other golf clubs, including Royal Porthcawl Golf Club in south Wales, which is currently hosting the Senior Open Championship.
Wales is now the only part of the UK not on the rota for hosting The Open.
Mr Dawson said the tipping point for him on selecting Northern Ireland was watching how successfully the Irish Open had been hosted in Portrush, the sheer enthusiasm for golf here, as well as getting a tour of the course.
"We couldn't be more excited about bringing The Open back here to one of the world's truly great links courses and we have every confidence that Royal Portrush will prove to be an excellent venue in absolutely every way," he said.
Mr Robinson added: "This is what peace and stability looks like. From an Executive point of view, this just wouldn't have happened, these men wouldn't have dreamed of coming here 20 years ago.
"We want people to think of Northern Ireland and think of golf."
Simon Rankin, captain of Royal Portrush Golf Club, said it was "a great day in the celebrated history of Irish golf".
"It will be of great benefit to the club and Northern Ireland as a whole to have the game's greatest championship played here," he said.
‘It’s up to retailers to make the most of being on the world stage again’
One of Northern Ireland’s best loved local ice-cream brands has given a warm welcome to confirmation that The Open will be returning to Portrush after over 60 years.
Morelli’s has been based on the north coast since 1927 and served up ice-cream to golfing fans the last time The Open came in 1951.
Although some of the smaller traders have given a cool welcome to The Open after they didn’t see as much trade as they expected from the Irish Open in 2012, Daniella Morelli said she was delighted to see Portrush put on the global map again.
“We are delighted to hear about The Open coming to Portrush,” she said. “Anything that puts Portrush in the spotlight is really fantastic news.”
One of the best known department stores in the seaside town has also welcomed the return of The Open.
Neville Moore said it was “brilliant news for Portrush and Northern Ireland plc”.
“Ten years ago if you had suggested that The Open would be coming to Northern Ireland, people would have thought you were mad,” he said.
Meanwhile, with the hundreds of thousands of golf fans expected for The Open staying at hotels across Northern Ireland, retailers all over the province have also welcomed The Open’s return.
Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Aodhan Connolly said his members were ready to play their part.
“Any event that shows Northern Ireland in a positive light has to be welcomed,” he said. “We have an eclectic mix of retail across Northern Ireland from larger shops to niche retailers, which greatly adds to the tourist offer here. As well as the good folk of Northern Ireland, visitors from across the island, the UK and further afield will get to sample our own brand of destination retailing and will hopefully return again and again.
“It’s up to us to make the most of this opportunity of Northern Ireland again being on the world stage for the right reasons and retailers are ready to play their part.”