Friday, 17 February 2012
Darren Clarke with George O'Grady  (Getty Images)
Darren Clarke with George O'Grady (Getty Images)

Darren Clarke’s local knowledge will be put to good use with the aim of making one of the world’s greatest links golf courses even better as he held the first of a number of meetings with European Tour officials at Royal Portrush Golf Club this week in preparation for the 2012 Irish Open.

Portrush will host the prestigious tournament for the first time since 1947 when the 2012 edition takes place from June 28-July 1. Early preparations have begun as a European Tour delegation travelled to Northern Ireland this week.

Reigning Open Champion Clarke is a Member at the stunning links course and, before travelling to the USA for next week’s WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship, he met with officials to give his own views as to how the course can be set up to its full potential.

“The Tour came over and they wanted somebody’s opinion for the golf course and I’m at home at the moment,” the 14 time European Tour winner told BBC Northern Ireland. “They wanted somebody that plays the course all the time to show them where all the shortcuts are; out on Tour we try and cut corners whenever we can and so they’re making sure they grow the rough in areas that they need to.

“I want it to be set up to play fair, where you get rewarded for hitting fairways. That’s what links golf is all about. The golf course itself doesn’t need much tweaking - it just needs thick rough in a few areas where the guys take things on. If they succeed, well and good, but if they get it wrong they’re going to struggle to hit the greens from those places.”

European Tour Tournament Director Miguel Vidaor, meanwhile, praised Royal Portrush Golf Club as “one of the best courses in the world”.

The Dunluce Course has long been regarded as one of the world’s best links courses and last hosted the Irish Open Championship 65 years ago, when Harry Bradshaw emerged victorious.

It has once staged The Open Championship, in 1951, when Englishman Max Faulkner’s lifted the Claret Jug thanks to a two shot victory over Argentina’s Antonio Cerdá, while the last Major Championship action at the venue came in 2004 when American Pete Oakley won the Senior Open Championship.

Vidaor, the Tournament Director for the Irish Open, was wholesome in his praise of the course and stated his delight that The European Tour is returning to the Northern Irish coast.

 “This is one of the best courses in the world,” he said. “It’s fabulous, it’s an amazing piece of land. They’ve built new tees and it brings a lot of the fairway bunkers back into play.

“We’re over the moon (to be hosting the Irish Open at Portrush), we’re coming to one of the ‘hidden gems’. It’s one of the greatest golf courses in the world and it is links golf, which is great leading up to the Open Championship – it is fantastic practice for the players. For those who know the golf course, they’re going to love it and for those who haven’t, they’re going to be amazed.”

Speaking of Clarke’s input in the setting up of the course for the Irish Open, he said: "Darren knows the course better than anybody and to get his views on how to set it up, it’s extremely valuable and we really appreciate that he’s given his time to go around the golf course."

The new venue for the 2012 Irish Open will continue to focus the attention of the golfing world on Northern Ireland which has enjoyed a glorious spell at the pinnacle of the game over the last two years.

Graeme McDowell set the ball rolling in June 2010 with his memorable victory in the US Open Championship at Pebble Beach before handing the trophy over 12 months later to Holywood’s Rory McIlroy, following his astonishing eight shot victory at Congressional Country Club in June 2011.

The Major Championship baton was then passed to another Portrush man, Darren Clarke, who provided an emotional and memorable Open Championship victory at Royal St George’s in July 2011 before Ballymoney’s Michael Hoey captured the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews in October 2011.

That all came in the wake of the ground-breaking achievement of Ireland’s Padraig Harrington in 2007/2008, when he won three Major Championship victories in 13 months.

The Dubliner has already won the Irish Open, when he beat Bradley Dredge in a tense play-off in 2007, but Clarke, McDowell and McIlroy are still seeking a first win in their home Championship.

See the full interview with Darren Clarke and Miguel Vidaor on the BBC Golf website by clicking here (external site).

To purchase tickets for the Irish Open, please click here.

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