Belfast Telegraph

Rory opens up a great opportunity

Editor's Viewpoint

It is the stuff of marketing gurus' dreams. Northern Ireland has produced back-to-back winners of one of the most high profile golf tournaments in the world, the US Open.

Given the global audience who watched Rory McIlroy follow in the footsteps of Graeme McDowell to lift the trophy, the province's reputation as the home of great golfers is already well made. The trick now is to persuade visitors to come here to sample our world-class courses.

While the exploits of the two golfers have given the province great free publicity, there is still an element of confusion abroad over just exactly what part of Ireland they come from.

The New York Post's headline 'Eire Apparent' highlights one problem. The success of Northern Ireland's star golfers could benefit the Republic more than this side of the border unless tourism chiefs pitch their global advertising and marketing very carefully.

With tourism here falling by 300,000 last year, we have been given a heaven-sent opportunity to reverse the drift. It could be argued that the success of McDowell last year was not sufficiently exploited to the worldwide golfing audience.

McIlroy is an even more recognisable figure, with many experts saying he could go on to eclipse the great Tiger Woods as the game's dominant player. Both players are great ambassadors for the country and their reputations make them instantly marketable.

McIlroy, of course, is set to cash in even more than McDowell from winning the tournament given the astounding nature of his victory and his relative youth. Hopefully, whatever riches deservedly come his way, he will retain his down-to-earth ways. Those who may visit our shores will find that McIlroy and his family are typical of the Northern Ireland population - welcoming, level-headed and humble.

It is now up to tourism chiefs to make the most of their sporting ambassadors, selling Northern Ireland and its golf courses as the place where even ordinary handicappers can walk in the footsteps of golfing genius.

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