After months of fervent anticipation, the wait is finally over as Royal Portrush Golf Club prepares to welcome a sell-out crowd of 100,000 fans to join The European Tour’s celebration of Ireland’s golfing success at the 2012 Irish Open.
Nearly 60 years have passed since Northern Ireland last hosted the Irish Open in 1953, and not since 1947 have The European Tour’s elite graced the famous Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush.
But this week, following the remarkable Major-winning exploits of Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke over the past two years, the country is ready for a week under the golfing microscope as the eyes of the golfing world focus on Portrush.
Never before has Northern Ireland enjoyed such a tidal wave of success as in recent years. McDowell started the ball rolling at the 2010 US Open Championship at Pebble Beach, before McIlroy succeeded his great friend 12 months later with a record breaking performance at Congressional.
Not to be outdone by his younger compatriots, Clarke then added one of the most emotional Open Championship victories in recent memory to produce a stunning hat-trick in the space of 13 months.
This week’s homecoming will be particularly special for two of Portrush’s Honorary Members, McDowell, who learned his game on the famous links as a starry-eyed youth, and Clarke, a Portrush resident and Honorary Member of the club who has played there since his teenage years.
Northern Ireland’s aforementioned trio of Major Champions will be the undoubted stars of the show this week, but a supporting cast led by Ireland’s three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington, reigning US PGA Champion Keegan Bradley, the newly crowned Amateur Champion Alan Dunbar – a Portrush native – and a host of other Major Champions, Ryder Cup stars and European Tour winners, including another home favourite Michael Hoey, will add so much to what promises to be a fantastic event.
Simon Dyson will defend the title he won last year in Killarney over the Dunluce Links of Royal Portrush Golf Club, a venue so often hailed as one of the greatest tests of links golf in the world.
Thanks to the partnership between the Northern Irish Tourist Board and The European Tour’s long term partner in Ireland, Failte Ireland, the Irish Open will be played in the north for the first time since the Tour’s inception in 1972 – an historic occasion which has caught the imagination of golf fans worldwide resulting in an unprecedented demand for tickets and the first sell-out crowd at a regular European Tour event.
This week represents the fourth time Portrush has staged the Irish Open, and the first since 1947 when Harry Bradshaw took the first of his two Irish Open titles, the other also coming in the north at Belvoir Park in 1949.
Royal Portrush’s Dunluce Links staged The Open Championship in 1951 when Englishman Max Faulkner’s three under par total of 285 was enough to take the Claret Jug by two shots from 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 – the sixth Senior Open to be played there.
Portrush is now ready to pen another chapter of golfing history this week.