Hard work starts now as Portrush targets British Open
THE choice of Royal Portrush as venue for the 2012 Irish Open is on a par with the staging of the 2006 Ryder Cup on this island in terms of its sporting, economic and political significance.
It could not have been achieved without government backing at the highest level on both sides of the border.
A key moment came on the evening of December 23 when Taoiseach Enda Kenny telephoned European Tour chief executive George O'Grady to inform him of the Republic's full support for the proposal.
So Failte Ireland, the Tour's long-standing partner in keeping the event afloat through difficult times, happily handed over "the baby", as their chairman Redmond O'Donoghue colourfully describes the Irish Open.
Naturally, the Northern Ireland Assembly have drummed up a lion's share of the funding for next June's tournament, while Failte Ireland's input will be a fraction of the estimated €1m they invested in last year's Irish Open in Killarney.
Yet, significantly, for the first time Failte Ireland will have ploughed substantial funding into an event staged entirely in the North, lending real substance at last to the concept of promoting golf tourism on an all-island basis.
Many great players will be drawn to this year's event by the prospect of competing on one of the world's most renowned courses, which in turn will magnify viewer interest in the Irish Open around the globe.
TV pictures of a top-class tournament taking place on this spectacularly beautiful stretch of the Causeway Coast in turn will offer irrefutable evidence of Ireland, north and south, as a universally alluring, friendly and safe place to play golf.
Above all, Portrush will next June have a chance to prove it's capable of hosting a British Open. It is more accessible by road than Royal St George's (and boasts a railway link with Belfast to boot), while it has more accommodation in its catchment area than Turnberry.
So the only real impediment to staging the British Open at Royal Portrush is spectator capacity -- can club and Tour officials find a way to accommodate crowds of 20,000-plus daily?
Frankly, the crowds drawn by the modern Irish Open (87,000 overall last year in Killarney) are far greater than those who attended the 1951 British Open at Portrush.
In conjuring up at remarkably short notice the funding necessary to host a Tour event with a minimum €2m prize fund, Minister Arlene Foster and, in particular, David Sterling, her permanent secretary at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, made this initiative possible.
Yet the hard work now really begins for the people of Portrush and their world-renowned golf club.