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The 148th Open year that showcased Northern Ireland to the world

It's been another bumper year for NI golf...including a momentous Writer Cup win

Pictured are Team NI’s winning Writer Cup team, l-r: Gareth McCullough, Terry McCartney, board member of Tourism NI, Richard Mulligan, Tourism NI’s Orla Farren, Billy Foley, Kate Ferguson of Tourism NI, Maurice Jay, Adam McKendry, Richard Sullivan and Neil McKnight.
Pictured are Team NI’s winning Writer Cup team, l-r: Gareth McCullough, Terry McCartney, board member of Tourism NI, Richard Mulligan, Tourism NI’s Orla Farren, Billy Foley, Kate Ferguson of Tourism NI, Maurice Jay, Adam McKendry, Richard Sullivan and Neil McKnight.

By Gareth McCullough

As the golfing season winds down for most - particularly given the wintry weather that has been upon us of late - there's still time for those hardy players to get themselves a few rounds on the some of the most picturesque courses around.

We're blessed in Northern Ireland with some of the finest golfing landscapes in the world, be they rugged links courses, stunning tree-lined parkland clubs or sprawling golf resorts that demand you stay for longer than your four-plus hours of actual golf.

One of those, the vast expanse of Lough Erne Resort just outside Enniskillen, fittingly, recently played host to the 10th anniversary of the Writer Cup, a two-day tournament that pits a team of journalists from Northern Ireland against their Republic of Ireland counterparts in a Ryder Cup-style format.

Lough Erne hosted the very first edition of the event, which has gone from strength to strength in the intervening years, in tandem with golf tourism in Northern Ireland, which hit a huge milestone with the staging of The Open in Royal Portrush earlier in 2019.

The picturesque 17th hole at the Lough Erne Resort
The picturesque 17th hole at the Lough Erne Resort

Golf tourism is now worth over £42 million annually to Northern Ireland, an increase of 58% since 2013.

The five-star Lough Erne Resort, voted one of the top golf resorts in Ireland, offers 36 holes of golf on its Faldo and Castle Hume courses and amazing views over the beautiful Fermanagh Lakelands. Not surprising then that water comes into play a lot here, with no less than 11 holes involving water. It also hosted the G8 Summit of World Leaders in 2013.

A top 100 course in the UK and Ireland, it measures 7,071 yards from the tips and is a par 72. The course record of 68 was set by Rory McIlroy (touring professional 2009-2011) and still remains unbeaten.

'Open' to everyone

The 148th Open placed NI on a global stage and provided an endorsement of Northern Ireland as a compelling destination, a great place to live, work and invest and one with the ability to deliver world class events professionally and efficiently.

The success of the event has been phenomenal. The event, the crowds and the spirit of the Northern Ireland people captured the imagination of the world’s media and shone a spotlight on what was a groundbreaking event and watershed moment for Northern Ireland.

The Open delivered a record-breaking crowd of 237,750, setting an attendance record for a Championship staged outside St Andrews.

Within 48 hours of going on sale, over 20% of the entire ticket allocation for the 148th Open were snapped up, and all general admission championship days tickets sold in a record breaking eight weeks.

The estimated combined economic benefit to Northern Ireland from the event is at least £80m, which includes visitor spend during the event and the international media value. Broadcast coverage of The Open reached 600m households worldwide with 634 journalists and 1750 TV personnel covering the event for 44 countries.

There were 6,000 staff on site to support the delivery of the event, including permanent staff, temporary staff, contractors, volunteers and TV personnel.

Top of the world

For the first time, two of Northern Ireland’s golf courses have been listed in the top 10 of Golf Digest’s top 100 golf courses in the world. 

Royal Portrush moved from number 27 to number 7 in the most recent ranking, a move as a result of the course preparations for The 148th Open in 2019. Royal County Down Golf Club maintained its number one status for a third year.

ROYAL COUNTY DOWN GC (CHAMPIONSHIP)

On a clear spring day, with Dundrum Bay to the east, the Mountains of Mourne to the south and gorse-covered dunes in golden bloom, there is no lovelier place in golf.

The design is attributed to Old Tom Morris, but was refined by half a dozen architects in the past 120 years, most recently by Donald Steel. Though the greens are surprisingly flat, as if to compensate for the rugged terrain and numerous blind shots, bunkers are a definite highlight, most with arched eyebrows of dense marram grasses and impenetrable clumps of heather.

Par: 71

Yardage: 7,186

ROYAL PORTRUSH GC (DUNLUCE)

Portrush is still the only Irish course to host The Open Championship. The Old Tom Morris design, reworked by H S Colt in the 1930s, was The Open site back in 1951, and was again in 2019.

In preparation, architect Martin Ebert added new 7th and 8th holes, fashioned from land on the club's Valley Course, to replace the 17th and 18th. That means the notorious Calamity Hole, an uphill 210-yard par 3, is now the 16th instead of the 14th, and the old par 4 16th will now be the closing hole, with a new back tee.

Ebert retained Colt's greens, considered one of the best set of putting surfaces in the world.

Par: 72

Yardage: 7,317

Upcoming in 2020

With a plethora of other golf events dotted around the country in 2020, including the ISPS HANDA World Invitational 2020 at Galgorm Castle and Massereene, there are also plenty of top-notch amateur tournaments for the more 'average' golfer to get their teeth into next year.

Belfast Parkland International Golf Tournament 

When: 20-22 May 20-22, 2020

Where: Shandon Park, Royal Belfast and Malone Golf Clubs.

Book: www.belfastparklandtournament.com   

The 53rd Causeway Coast Golf Tournament

When: June 1-5, 2020 

Where: Castlerock Golf Club (Mussenden Links), Royal Portrush (Valley Course), Ballyliffin Golf Club (Old Course), Ballycastle Golf Club (The Warren Links).

Book: www.causewaycoastgolf.com 

Newry, Mourne and Down Summer Golf Trophy and Junior Golf Trophy

When: August 2020 (final dates TBC)

Where: TBC

International Kings Cup 2020

When: TBC

Where: Grand Final at Castlerock Golf Club

As for the Writer Cup, just in case you were wondering who emerged victorious...Of course, Team NI proved too strong as they won 7-5 overall, after taking a 2.5-1.5 Fourball Day 1 lead into the Day 2 Singles.

It was never in doubt really!

For further information on golf in Northern Ireland, visit www.nimadeforgolf.com and for general destination information go to www.discovernorthernireland.com 

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