DARREN Clarke and Graeme McDowell welcomed the historic return of the Irish Open to Royal Portrush yesterday -- but there was also a sweetener for Carton House, which was beaten to the post as 2012 venue.
Carton House was favourite to succeed Killarney as the 2012 host of the Irish Open -- just before Christmas, confirmation of the Maynooth venue, which held the event in 2005 and '06, appeared imminent.
However, an OBE for Clarke and an MBE for Rory McIlroy announced in Britain's New Year's Honours list, is believed to have been the final spur in the Northern Irish government investing €2m to get the tournament to Portrush this year.
But, by stepping aside this year, Carton House is a virtual certainty to take back the Irish Open in 2013.
British Open champion Clarke and McDowell, US Open winner in 2010, are thrilled that the Irish Open goes north and will be played in their home town. Clarke lives in Portrush and McDowell was brought up there. Last night the two Irish stars couldn't wait for today's official announcement to let the world know of their feelings.
"Fantastic news on the Irish Open 2012 coming to Royal Portrush," McDowell told his Twitter followers. "Always been a dream of mine to play a top event in my home town."
Clarke urged golf fans to pack the fairways come June: "Royal Portrush will be awesome for the Irish Open this year... it's as good a test as we play anywhere!" he tweeted. "Brilliant news. Big crowds please!!!"
The course becomes the first Ulster venue to host the Irish Open since it was revived in 1975.