R&A says each Portrush Open will boost NI economy by £70m
Each staging of the Open Championship at Royal Portrush will generate around £70m for the Northern Ireland economy, event organisers the R&A have said.
The R&A confirmed on Monday that the golf major will return to Portrush for the first time since 1951 and it could happen as soon as 2019.
Portrush's return to the event's rota will mean further Opens at the venue.
"On each occasion, it will generate an estimated £70m for the Northern Ireland economy," said R&A chief Peter Dawson.
"It will certainly give the game of golf here and the whole region huge exposure as television images are beamed around the world," added the R&A chief executive.
Dawson revealed that the R&A will be spending "millions of pounds to bring the golf course and infrastructure up to where we need it for the Open and we will be delighted to do so".
Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson said that country's Executive expects to yield a "10-fold return" on what it spends on bringing the tournament back to the province.
For reasons of "commercial sensitivity", the First Minister would not divulge the precise sums being spent by the Northern Ireland government but it is thought to be in the region of £8m.
Despite the civil unrest which previously has gripped the mid-July period in Northern Ireland, in an around the marching season, Dawson said that the R&A has no fears over security issues.
"As the First Minister has said, the history here has caused some reputational damage over time. Everyone knows that but we've very happy that's in the past.
"Like every other Open venue, we work closely with the police and take advice on security matters.
"But if we thought there was a security problem here, we wouldn't be making this announcement."
In terms of "tipping points" which convinced the R&A that the time was now right to seriously look at bringing the championship back to Portrush, Dawson pointed to the success of the 2012 Irish Open at the venue and a crucial day spent at the course with golf course architect Martin Ebert.
"That day we spent here with Martin Ebert was when we finally thought: 'This is how we can do this'.
"It's been a long time since 1951 and the game has moved on and like all of the other Open venues, we've had to look at the course to ensure that it provides the sort of test than an Open Championship should provide.
"The course can certainly do that with some alterations - not just from a playing point of view but also in terms of the infrastructure surrounding an Open Championship.
"The 18th green here is difficult from a grandstands point of view. All of those things are in the mix."
The expectation is that the course changes suggested by Ebert will see territory from the adjacent Valley links replacing the current 17th and 18th holes.
Dawson acknowledged the success of Northern Ireland's golfers Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke in winning a combined four majors over the past four years had helped the Portrush cause.
"Their performances on the golf course and the staging of the Irish Open was something of an eye opener in terms of the strength of the fan base for golf in Northern Ireland and Ireland.
"That was certainly part of it as well as the wonderful golf course and the great welcome and support we have been receiving from the Northern Ireland Executive and the indeed the club as well."