Irish opening

Sports | Agence France-Presse 18 Jul 2019

The British Open returns to Northern Irish soil for the first time in 68 years.

Not since 1951 has golf's oldest tournament been held outside Scotland or England.

But the eyes of the world will be on the small seaside town of Portrush, with a population of just over 7,000, as the likes of Tiger Woods and local hero Rory McIlroy battle for the Claret Jug.

A return to Northern Ireland was ruled out for many years by "The Troubles" - a 30-year period of politically and religiously motivated violence.

However, a peace deal reached in 1998, paved the way for a brighter future for the region.

The possibility for Portrush to return to the Open Championship rotation was also aided by a golden generation for Irish golf that followed.

Padraig Harrington led the way with British Open wins in 2007 and 2008.

Portrush native Graeme McDowell won the US Open in 2010 with McIlroy succeeding him a year later.

The next month, Darren Clarke won the British Open.

Portrush's chance to prove itself as a venue came on the wave of that success, by hosting the Irish Open for the first time since 1947 in 2012.

Despite inclement weather yesterday, record crowds turned out in numbers normally reserved for the Open Championship itself.

That enthusiasm has been surpassed this week as for the first time tickets have been completely sold out before a ball is struck.

"It says a lot about the country and a lot about the times that we are able to hold such a big event here," McIlroy said.

Two new holes, the sixth and the seventh, have been constructed using an adjoining course and opening up the space required for the capacity needed to host spectators, sponsors and the world's media. Government support was also needed to ensure the necessary infrastructure improvement would be funded.

Royal Portrush's club secretary Wilma Erskine made her case to Democratic Unionist Leader Arlene Foster.

"We managed to get a meeting with her and explain how positive this would be for Northern Ireland in economic terms," said Erskine.

"This is not for the week of the Open it is the legacy it is going to leave. The legacy is house prices go up, more hotels will want to come to this area."

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