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Irish Open 2015: Northern Ireland is Open for show business

By Steven Beacom

Another massive sporting event has come to Northern Ireland and gone. We are getting used to them by now.

And this little country is becoming brilliant at staging them.

From the World Police and Fire Games to the Giro d'Italia, Northern Ireland is fast gaining a reputation as the host with the most.

It was Newcastle's turn over the last week and the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open proved to be a huge success.

For each of the four tournament rounds, every ticket was sold... all 80,000 of them.

That's only the second time in history that a European Tour event has been a sell out.

The first? At Royal Portrush three years ago when the Irish Open arrived on the north coast.

Just goes to show you, if they bring it here, the people will come.

It helps of course having a superstar like Rory McIlroy in your corner.

McIlroy's charitable Foundation hosted this year's Irish Open and the world number one was instrumental in attracting some superstar pals to play at the spectacular Royal County Down course.

The Irish Open would not normally be on the busy schedules of top golfers such as Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Miguel Angel Jimenez, but it was this time.

And most of them revealed that was simply down to Rory's request.

The Holywood hero has pulling power, there is no doubt about that.

We should never underestimate what McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell do for Northern Ireland. They aren't just major winning golfers, they are wonderful ambassadors for the place they call home.

Without their success in the biggest tournaments on the planet, which started with McDowell winning the US Open in 2010, it is unlikely the Irish Open would have come north of the border.

After all, up until Royal Portrush, the last time the tournament had been played here was in 1953 at Belvoir Park in Belfast.

The Northern Ireland Executive realised it would be a great to ride the major wave that Graeme, Darren and Rory created and invested £2 million in the 2012 event, which was a hit with spectators and players alike.

Three years on, the 2015 Irish Open, has been another joy.

Obviously there was one big disappointment for the fans, especially those who had bought tickets for Saturday and Sunday, when star attraction McIlroy missed the cut and failed to play at the weekend, though he did turn up to play a part in the presentation of the trophy to winner Soren Kjeldsen.

Still, there were enough star names for the large galleries to watch from Fowler to Els and Clarke to McDowell and some outstanding golf from the less well known like England's Eddie Pepperell, who somehow made it to the play-off without a bogey on his final day card.

And there was the Royal County Down course, a spectacular all on its own with the Mourne Mountains providing a stunning backdrop.

It was wonderful to walk the course and see the young and not so young, with ages ranging from seven to 70 and beyond, with beaming smiles on their faces, even when the weather, which goes with the territory, was at its stormy worst.

The conditions became a talking point in themselves with the sun splitting the fairways one second and heavy showers tumbling down the next. There had been concerns over traffic delays on the road to Newcastle, but they passed by, in every sense, without any real issues while the queues to get through the gates moved as quickly as one could have hoped.

Top marks must go to the European Tour for their organisational ability and Royal County Down Golf Club for providing such a warm welcome to visitors. Also respect for all the volunteers, who had a kindly word or smile for those who had paid good money to come and watch.

All of these issues are important and key reasons why people go home thinking they would like to come again to an event like this - and remember the Irish Open is back in Northern Ireland in 2017 at the Lough Erne resort in Fermanagh. While our politicans may get themselves stuck in a rut over other issues, it is vital they stay on the same side where bring sporting events to Northern Ireland is concerned.

Think back to the 2012 Irish Open, think about the 2015 Irish Open just past and shows like the World Police and Fire Games and Giro d'Italia in between.

We love them. They are good for our soul. They are great for our morale.

And they show Northern Ireland is moving on from a dark and distant past when sports teams, sports stars and those in charge of sporting competitions refused to come to this place.

Almost forgotten amid the Irish Open frenzy, rugby's Pro 12 final between Glasgow and Munster was successfully staged at the Kingspan stadium in Belfast on Saturday.

In 2017 that arena will be the venue for the Women's World Rugby Cup final.

And who knows maybe Ulster Rugby's headquarters will be staging games in the 2023 rugby World Cup if Ireland win the bid to host. Casement Park could be involved with that tournament too if the new GAA stadium in Belfast is ever built!

What we do know is that The Open championship itself, one of the biggest sporting events on the globe, is on its way to Royal Portrush in 2019.

If you think the Irish Open was huge, that will be on a whole new epic scale with McIlroy joined by more mega stars like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson.

Having Rory, Tiger, Phil and the rest of the golfing greats play at Portrush would be like Lionel Messi and Barcelona running out at Windsor Park.

Don't rule it out. If the Irish FA have their way it might just happen. An application to stage the European Super Cup, which sees the Champions League winners take on the Europa League winners, has already been put forward to Uefa and the IFA are hopeful it will come to pass once the new Windsor is completed.

Then there's the Tour de France. Northern Ireland was lauded by chiefs of the Giro d'Italia, the second biggest cycling race around, for the way we hosted it last year. In a recent interview with the Belfast Telegraph Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said the number one cycling event should be the next target.

She's right. Don't stop now. We are on a roll. Northern Ireland's got talent at hosting these major sporting events.

Belfast Telegraph


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