Darren Clarke expressed his delight last night that plans for a €119m golf resort on Northern Ireland’s north coast are set to get the green light.
More than 10 years after the first planning application was lodged, the developers have overcome National Trust resistance to begin work on the Runkerry resort, just two miles west of the famous Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim.
Alistair Hanna, a 67-year old New York City-based developer who grew up in Rory McIlroy’s home town of Holywood, has been planning and promoting Runkerry for more than a decade.
He has a 125-year lease on 356 acres outside the village of Bushmills, where he seeks to build a 120-room hotel, 75-room villas, a spa and a links-style golf course.
Speaking in Arizona where he is preparing for this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Clarke said: “It will be fantastic. The plans have been there for a very long time and the course will be sensational.
“It will be wonderful for the area to have a five star resort there. It will be absolutely brilliant. It will generate employment and generally it will be fantastic for the area.
“And the piece of land is stunning. It is just down the road from where I live. I’m not involved at all but it will be stunning. It’s brilliant news.”
According to agency reports, construction could start later this year in a bid to have the course and accommodation ready by the summer of 2014.
Northern Ireland Environment minister Alex Attwood will make an announcement on Tuesday.
Open champion Clarke lives a few miles from the proposed course, close to neighbouring Royal Portrush golf club where the Irish Open will take place this summer.
Graeme McDowell, a friend of both players and winner of the US Open in 2010, also comes from Portrush.
The first planning application was submitted in 2001 and then renewed six years later.
There was considerable opposition by the National Trust, owners of nearby Giant’s Causeway, a Unesco world heritage site where a new visitors’ centre is due to open this summer after another lengthy planning process.
Scottish golf course designed David McLay Kidd is expected to take on the project and has already told Hanna: “If I can’t get your course into the top 50 of the world, you should shoot me.”
McLay Kidd has designed many leading courses including Fancourt, Bandon Dunes, the Castle Course at St Andrews and the West Course at Powerscourt.