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New Year Honours: Portrush's Open champion Wilma Erskine heads Northern Ireland sports list

 

Wilma Erskine played a huge role in bringing The Open back to Northern Ireland.
Wilma Erskine played a huge role in bringing The Open back to Northern Ireland.

By Jim Gracey

Wilma Erskine, the former general manager of Royal Portrush golf club, and widely recognised as a key figure in securing the hugely successful Open Championship for Northern Ireland last summer, heads a list of 13 local sports people in the Queen's New Year honours list.

Wilma, already a British Empire medal holder, is awarded the OBE for services to tourism and golf.

The energetic 60-year-old led the campaign to bring The Open to her home club last summer, generating an estimated £100m for the Northern Ireland economy with future tourism benefits to come.

Wilma retired from her 33-year Royal Portrush role immediately after the The Open and is now involved in several golf related consultancy projects, including with the Galgorm resort and Castle golf club in her native Co Antrim.

Explaining her drive to bring The Open to Portrush and Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, Wilma told the Belfast Telegraph: "You've got to keep attracting tournaments to secure your presence in the marketplace. So in 2007, we set up a sub committee to plan for the future with the Irish Open as an eventual aspiration, which we achieved.

"Then we thought why not aim as high as we can and set ourselves a target of bringing back The Open."

Her work in delivering the biggest sporting event ever staged here has now been royally recognised alongside several other notable Northern Ireland sporting figures.

Recently retired NI international football hero Aaron Hughes, from Magherafelt, is awarded the MBE as is Glengormley Paralympic multi-gold medallist Michael McKillop for services to disability awareness and athletics.

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Michael McKillop

British Empire medals go to former hockey international Angela Platt, from Coleraine, now general manager of the Northern Cricket Union, for services to sport development, and to Mike Todd, former general manager of Down Royal racecourse, for services to horse racing and business.

"It's a lovely gesture for doing something I loved. I am very proud," said Ballyclare man Todd.

Middle distance runner Michael McKillop, who has cerebral palsy, said the honour was about making people aware of what disabled sport was all about.

“We train six or seven days a week like elite athletes. To be recognised alongside able-bodied sports stars is very special.

“It is a big accolade for all the hard work I put in trying to promote disabled sport and disability awareness.”

He won gold at the Paralympics in Beijing, London and Rio.

Northern Ireland football’s former skipper Aaron Hughes starred during his country’s memorable Euro 2016 run in France.

Hughes, who when he retired in June had earned a then record 112 outfield international caps, has been made an MBE for services to football.

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Aaron Hughes

Having made his debut as an 18-year-old against Slovakia in March 1998 under Lawrie McMenemy, Hughes, from Cookstown, went on to captain his country 48 times.

Irish FA president David Martin said: “Aaron is one of the all-time Northern Ireland sporting greats.

“He demonstrated a remarkable consistency throughout his 22-year professional career.

“He was never red carded and is a true role model for any young player looking to be a full-time footballer.”

Also honoured are: British Empire Medal: Letty Lucas, services to tennis and charity; Barry Macauley, services to disability sport; George Mace, services to sport and the community; Connor McCarroll, services to running and charity in Co Tyrone; Bernard McComiskey, services to boxing and the community in Gilford, Co Down; John McIlrath, services to sport in NI; Brian Reid, services to rugby; Jack Alexander, services to sport in NI.

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