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It’s time for Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowelll to enjoy home comforts

By Peter Hutcheon

Take a look at the next list of the world’s top courses and you can bet your life Northern Ireland will be home to at least two.

And a glance at the world ranking gives us Rory McIlroy at number eight and US Open champion Graeme McDowell at 11.

Yet we have not hosted a European Tour event since Scotsman Eric Brown won the Irish Open at Belvoir Park in 1953.

McDowell wants the Open Championship to be played on his home course of Royal Portrush. It did host the Open when Max Faulkner won back in 1951, but modern logistical demands make that a non-runner these days.

But there’s nothing to prevent the staging of the Irish Open here and there are plenty of venues which could cope with the demands of the 80,000 or so who made their way to Killarney over the four days of last week’s tournament.

Over the past decade Northern Ireland has played host to the British Seniors Open, the Northern Irish Ladies’ Open, the Walker Cup and a couple of Challenge Tour events.

But as Lynn McCool, director of golf at the Lough Erne Resort, who played in the Ladies’ Open at Hilton Templepatrick in 2007, points out they were just a starting point.

“Having those events was great, but you would swap all of them for the massive exposure a European Tour event would create,” she says.

“Given that we have the US Open champion in Graeme McDowell and one of the most talented players in the world in Rory McIlroy, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board should be falling over themselves to try and stage a European Tour event here.”

Lynn could use her own course as a selling point. Without a doubt Lough Erne will join Royal County Down and Royal Portrush on the list of the world’s great courses in due time.

The Sir Nick Faldo-designed layout on the shores of Lower Lough Erne is nothing less than spectacular and McIlroy and Darren Clarke were both in agreement after their challenge match last month against Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry, that it would be a huge hit with the European Tour professionals if a tournament were ever staged there.

The Irish Open appears to have found a good home in Killarney and will probably stay there for at least the next year, if not longer.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be the Irish Open heading this side of the border.

The European Open was staged quite happily for years at the K Club prior to the 2006

Ryder Cup and could quite easily be prized away from its current temporary home at the London Club.

It is the lack of a major sponsor which, more than anything else, prevents Northern Ireland from hosting a major European Tour event.

But even in these testing financial times tournaments still go on all over the world, so finding one is not quite locating the holy grail.

Tourism is a vital component of the local economy and there are few better ways to showcase the natural beauty of Northern Ireland than by hosting the top European players in an event which would be seen by a worldwide audience.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board should be hammering on the doors of all our top clubs trying to work out a way to make it happen.

Last week’s Irish Open was worth in the region of £25million to the local economy in Co Kerry. Who can afford to turn down that kind of money?

With McIlroy now being openly touted as the man to take over from Tiger Woods and the US Open trophy nestling in the glass cabinet at Rathmore, the question must be asked: If not now, then when?

Northern Ireland punches above its weight when it comes to golf both on a professional level and when it comes to the excellence of our courses.

Yet there seems scant reward for that because, if anything, it is all taken for granted.

The Irish Open has been granted a new lease of life by moving to July from May and will continue to attract the top players, including our own,

And it’s high time that we got in on the action.

Belfast Telegraph


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