The Open Championship is set to return to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, Belfast First Minister Peter Robinson said in a statement on Monday.
His comments followed an invitation from tournament organisers, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A), to the Royal Portrush course to join the list of courses approved to stage the tournament.
The famous seaside links on the British province’s northern coast last staged the Open in 1951 – the only time it has been played outside England and Scotland. The major could return to Portrush as early as 2019.
Golf fans in Northern Ireland and elsewhere have long agitated for the world oldest and most prestigious tournament to return to Portrush, arguing that the course now met all the conditions laid down by the organisers.
The news was confirmed in a statement from the office of Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Robinson said: “This is wonderful news, not only for Royal Portrush Golf Club, but for the whole of Northern Ireland, with an estimated combined tourism promotion and economic return of $US70 million ($A75.7 million).
“The decision to bring the Open back to Northern Ireland is a tremendous vote of confidence in the game here and follows the huge success of the Irish Open in 2012, the first in European Tour history to sell out.
“Today’s announcement recognises that Northern Ireland not only has some of the world’s greatest golfers, but some of the world’s greatest golf courses.”
The R&A’s chief executive Peter Dawson said that 2019 was the earliest that Portrush could host the Open, but that it may be some time after that as planning permission was still being sought for some necessary course alterations.
Four major championship victories by local superstars Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke between 2010 and 2012 added a real impetus to the campaign to bring the championship to Northern Ireland, with all three lobbying on behalf of the course.