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The Open at Royal Portrush 2019: Ace Darren's joy as Open heads home to the province

By Liam Kelly

Darren Clarke often dreamed of 'this one to win the Open' when he practised his putting at Royal Portrush, but until recently he never dared to imagine that the Open Championship would be played at his home club in his lifetime.

Well, it will. July 18-21, 2019 are the dates, Royal Portrush is indeed the venue, and the best players in the world will battle for the Claret Jug at the renowned Dunluce Links.

This will be the 148th presentation of the Open, and only the second time the Championship will have been played outside England and Scotland since its inception in 1860.

The first - and only time up to now - was 1951 at Royal Portrush where Max Faulkner won the Open.

History-laden, tradition-laden, there is nothing in golf to match the contest for the Claret Jug, and even Clarke had to pinch himself to realise that the official announcement at Royal Portrush yesterday brought to an end phase one of a lengthy process.

Golf, and sport in general, has tra­ditionally brought glamour and glory to Northern Ireland, even through the Troubles that blighted the province since the late 1960s.

Mary Peters' gold medal at the Munich Olympics in 1972; George Best, one of the greatest footballers in history; Barry McGuigan, who won the World featherweight title; Olympic boxing medal winners Wayne McCullough, Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan - all heroes and heroines.

And then came golfers Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy to claim their place in the pantheon of Major champions.

With Northern Ireland, a small part of a small island, punching so far above its weight it's no wonder that the idea of the Open coming back seemed to be an impossible dream. Clarke put it all in perspective.

"I knew it had been here at Royal Portrush before," he said. "I played a lot of my golf here and I lived here and I was a proud member here.

"Did I think we would get through the dark times that Northern Ireland has had to get the biggest and best tournament in the world? I'd be very foolish to say yes.

"Nobody could foresee that coming about during the bad old days, but to see how far we have all come, how far we have moved this part of the country on, it has been brilliant," he said.

The status of Clarke, McDowell and McIlroy, which soared once they began bagging Major titles all within a short time span of each other, has been central to the process that led up to the R&A decision, but Clarke also hailed Pádraig Harrington.

Harrington's Open win in 2007 smashed the Major hoodoo that had blighted successive generations of Irish golfers since Ulsterman Fred Daly won at Hoylake in 1947, and removed any remaining psychological barriers for his peers.

"Overall, all the impetus wasn't started by G-Mac or Rory. It was start­ed by Pádraig winning three Majors in a very short period of time and we all followed him," said Clarke.

Golfers plying their trade was one thing; bringing courage, vision and, above all, money to the table to make an Open Championship possible required different contribu­tions from various sectors.

Clarke hailed four people as having a significant role: George O'Grady, former chief executive of the European Tour, Arlene Foster, Acting First Minis­ter of the Northern Ireland Executive, Wilma Erskine, the secretary-manager of Royal Portrush, and Peter Dawson, the former chief executive of the R&A.

Tourism NI and Fáilte Ireland played their part in the negotiations which brought the Irish Open north in 2012 to Portrush, and again this year at Royal County Down.

That 2012 event showcased the po­tential for bringing the Open here, and it did no harm that Clarke, McIlroy, McDowell and Har­rington regularly voiced their support for a bold move by the R&A.

Much work remains to be done on infrastructure and it will be challeng­ing for the organisers to cope with the record crowds that will flock to Portrush.

But with a potential £70m value to the area and the wider com­munity predicted from the staging of the Open, plus the worldwide tourism exposure, all parties, including the politicians, have every incentive to make this a successful venture.

Belfast Telegraph


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