Irish Open goes with a swing: next stop the British Open?

 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland in action during practice for the 2012 Irish Open held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club Rory McIlroy in practice for the Irish Open at Royal Portrush

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The Irish Open at Royal Portrush has proved that Northern Ireland can handle a major European sporting event, in rain or shine.

More than 100,000 spectators turned up in the small coastal town on the western edge of Europe.

But transport links coped remarkably well with the golf fan invasion, despite frequent cloud bursts.

So has Royal Portrush done enough to clinch the British Open? Too early to say.

More questions need to be answered about the course's ability to cope with the biggest tournament in European golf.

The British Open - or The Open, to give it its proper title - was held at Royal Portrush back in 1951.

Behind the scenes, every effort is being made to bring it back in the next 10 years.

The success of the Irish Open will certainly help. The record crowds brought a real feel-good factor to Northern Ireland. Although the weather was not kind, most spectators went home wet but happy.

Perhaps the happiest couple was a husband and wife from Dublin who turned up on day one, only to find the event was sold out.

The two golf fanatics, both in their 60s, were about to trudge back home when they were given free tickets by a fan who had two spare.

They then asked a policeman to direct them to the course. There was torrential rain at the time, so he got his colleague to drive them to the course in a police car.

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Overall, it was a bad week for suncream sellers but a financial bonanza for umbrella stalls”

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The goodwill was infectious. There were huge crowds, but the police reported only two arrests.

A couple of young men tried to sneak onto the course without paying by trying to creep in through the sand dunes, but they were caught in the act, out of bounds.

While some complained about not being able to get in because all of the tickets had gone, for others the problem was getting out.

The tickets did not allow re-entry to the course and some retailers and restaurants in Portrush complained about losing thousands of potential customers during the day.

Overall, it was a bad week for sun-cream sellers but a financial bonanza for umbrella stalls.

For Northern Ireland, the Irish Open offered global exposure. The tournament was beamed into 350m households.

Northern Ireland Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said: "Portrush has certainly lived up to its billing as being golf's 'major capital of the world' and the 2012 Irish Open will go down in the history as being the first sell-out for a regular tour event."

Most of the fans on the course were from Northern Ireland - an estimated 85%, with 8% from the Irish Republic and the rest from the UK and other parts of Europe.

Golf tourism generates an estimated £14m for the economy in Northern Ireland but this figure is expected to rise sharply as a result of the Irish Open, with more people coming from around the world to play courses like Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, as well as Rory McIlroy's home club, Holywood.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board invested £2m in the Irish Open, by agreeing to be the major sponsor.

Singing in the rain: enjoying the Irish Open in Portrush Singing in the rain: enjoying the Irish Open in Portrush

Golf tourism is extremely lucrative. The average visitor to Northern Ireland spends £188. The spend by a golf tourist is £300-450 per trip.

The caddies at the Irish Open wore bibs with the slogan "Northern Ireland: Made for golf".

The recent major successes of local heroes Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have helped to put Northern Ireland on the global sporting map, trying to ensure it is better known for tourism than terrorism.

The hosting of the Irish Open for the first time in more than 50 years is a sign of normality returning.

The hope is that it will not be a one-off. The aim is to make major sporting events in Northern Ireland par for the course.

In pictures - the Irish Open.

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