Portrush gets government backing in bid to stage Open again

A BID to bring a professional golf tournament back to Northern Ireland following the region's stunning success in the world game has been backed with a financial commitment from the Stormont government.

The power-sharing Executive in Belfast has pledged to stump up funding to help Royal Portrush Golf Club secure an event.

It is envisaged that the famous links course could now stage the Irish Open within two years - a move that could pave the way for the Open Championship itself to return to Northern Ireland for only the second time in its history.

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With three golfers from Northern Ireland - Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke - winning Majors in the space of 13 months, tourism minister Arlene Foster said it was a case of striking when the iron was hot.

"Our golf courses are among the best in the world and our three major winners have proven that Northern Ireland is a top golfing destination," she said. "The time is now right to bring a major international golf tournament to Northern Ireland. This will showcase our golf tourism offering all over the world and provide a major boost to our local economy.

"This will need a major commitment from Royal Portrush Golf Club, the European Tour, sponsors, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Tourism Ireland, Coleraine Borough Council and others. But I am confident that we will work well together to make this a world-class event."

The region's three stars have all backed the campaign and two of them - Royal Portrush members McDowell and last weekend's Open winner Clarke - joined the minister to make the announcement.

"This announcement today is a great achievement for Royal Portrush Golf Club," said Clarke. "The enthusiasm and support I have received since returning home has been overwhelming and I am keen to ensure golf remains in the foreground of everyone's minds.

"To secure a major tournament in my home town would be a fantastic result following all the hard work the club members and captain have been doing behind the scenes, as I know both Graeme and myself would completely support such a major event at our home club. I look forward to hearing which tournament and the date so I can make sure I will be home to compete."

McDowell, the 2010 US Open winner, said: "I am very pleased to hear we now have work in progress to securing such an event and hope to support the club and the borough any way I can to make sure this takes place.

"Since Darren and I won our tournaments, the interest in golf has definitely increased. The support has been amazing and bringing a major tournament to our home town will be a great achievement".

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Captain of Royal Portrush Philip Tweedie said the backing of the government was an important first step.

"This is a three-step process, as the club has been involved for some time in preliminary negotiations with both Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the European Tour in relation to hosting a major professional tournament at Royal Portrush," he said. "I am delighted to be able to confirm today that DETI has now given a firm commitment in terms of providing the substantial financial backing that is required, and that the European Tour has also strongly endorsed the move.

"We are presently in talks with a number of additional potential sponsors from the private sector."

Royal Portrush hosted Northern Ireland's only Open Championship to date, in 1951.

"We at Royal Portrush are very much looking forward to working with all our partners to be able to host a major professional tournament that is worthy of the very high standards that have now been set by our three major champions," said added Tweedie.

"The international profile of Northern Ireland golf is at an all time high, thanks largely to their magnificent playing achievements, two of which being local residents and club members."