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The Open returns to Royal Portrush: Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell played major roles, says captain

By Jonathan Bradley

Royal Portrush captain Sir Richard McLaughlin has hailed the impact of Northern Ireland's Major winners in the decision to bring the Open Championship back to the country.

The tournament was last held at the north coast links back in 1951 and McLaughlin believes that the course's addition to the championship rota, with a view to hosting again in 2019, was inspired by the success of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.

The trio have collected six Majors since 2010 with McLaughlin reflecting: "The three people from Northern Ireland that are in the elite are just so important to golf here.

"They're among the best in the world and it almost makes it a brand that resonates everywhere.

"They're instantly recognisable and that's come back all the way to Portrush with the Open."

The close connections that the stars have maintained with their homeland can also not be overstated, according to McLaughlin.

"I was out there one day and a chap in a baseball cap walked past me carrying his golf bag, I looked again and it was Rory McIlroy," he remembered.

"The American chap beside me couldn't believe it and he was shouting up at his pals that it was Rory.

"Later that day, Graeme McDowell turned up.

"It just gives an aura to the place that not too many golf clubs in the world can boast.

"It's surprising when you speak to the American visitors who sit on a Sunday and watch the Golf Channel just how many of those people watched them on TV when the Irish Open was here and those images just reverberate," he added.

With the rota set for the next three years, the soonest the tournament could arrive on these shores is 2019 and the course's Chairman of the Tournament Committee John Bamber believes that such a date would pose no problems.

"We're very confident that the course can be prepared and will be ready as soon as the R&A are happy for a date to be announced," he said.

"Should that be 2019 or any year thereafter, we're 100 per cent happy that Royal Portrush will be ready to host the greatest golf championship in the world.

"The R&A have had full consultation with the club and that's been very well received by both sides.

"We hope to have a long term legacy of an even better golf course and that in turn will secure Royal Portrush in the world of golf for the next 100 years."

The re-development will cost millions of pounds but the estimated boost to the economy is £70 million for each Open visit with Bamber confident that the upcoming occasion will not be a one-off.

"This could be three Open Championships over the next 30 or 40 years," he said.

"It's a huge investment from the R&A, it's a huge investment for Northern Ireland and for golf here, but this is not a one-off situation that anyone's entering into.

"Hopefully Royal Portrush, the R&A, and golf in general are all going to benefit."

He continued: "Everybody in Ireland who has ever lifted a golf club will turn up at Royal Portrush whenever that year is announced.

"From Kerry to Malin Head, they'll be there.

"And those who aren't even golf fans because this is going to be a huge international event."

He added: "We believe it could potentially be one of the biggest in the history of the Championship."

Belfast Telegraph


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