After an absence of almost 60 years, and following two hugely successful stagings of the championship at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, the Irish Open will return to Northern Ireland this summer when the classic links at Royal Portrush hosts the 2012 event from Thursday June 28 to Sunday July 1, writes the European Tour.
The championship was last staged in Northern Ireland in 1953 when Scotsman Eric Brown won at the Belvoir Park Golf Club in south Belfast and will be the tenth time in total, although the first since the birth of The European Tour in 1972.
Furthermore, The European Tour is delighted to announce that the 2013 Irish Open will be played at Carton House Golf Club in County Kildare, the venue for the championship in both 2005 and 2006.
Welshman Stephen Dodd took the title at the Maynooth venue in 2005 following a play-off with England’s David Howell, while Denmark’s Thomas Björn was victorious 12 months later by a shot from England’s Paul Casey with Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke taking third a further shot adrift.
Carton House Golf Club, one of Ireland’s great historic estates, now features a majestic 165 bedroom hotel with spa and is also home to the Golfing Union of Ireland who, through its golf development programmes and junior coaching schemes, have helped Ireland produce four Major Champions in the past five years.
Before the return to County Kildare next year, however, the spotlight will focus on Royal Portrush this summer – the fourth time the venue has staged the championship, the other occasions being in 1930 when Englishman Charles Whitcombe triumphed; 1937 when another Englishman Bert Gadd won and, most recently, in 1947 when the legendary Irish professional 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 Course also 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.
In total, Royal Portrush has staged the Senior Open Championship on six occasions, the previous five coming in a row between 1995 and 1999, with the latter being the most memorable for the home spectators when Ireland’s Christy O’Connor Jnr triumphed.
The new venue for the 2012 Irish Open will continue to focus the attention of the golfing world on Northern Ireland which has enjoyed a glorious spell at the pinnacle of the game over the last two years; following on from the ground-breaking achievement of three Major Championship victories in 13 months by Ireland’s Padraig Harrington in 2007/2008.
Graeme McDowell set the ball rolling in June 2010 with his memorable victory in the US Open Championship at Pebble Beach before handing the trophy over 12 months later to Holywood’s Rory McIlroy, following his astonishing eight shot victory at Congressional Country Club in June 2011.
The Major Championship baton was then passed to another Portrush man, Darren Clarke, who provided an emotional and memorable Open Championship victory at Royal St George’s in July 2011 before Ballymoney’s Michael Hoey captured the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews in October 2011.
All are set to receive a hero’s welcome from the crowds who will be expected to flood to the Antrim Coast in their thousands in the last week of June.
Darren Clarke said: “It is fantastic news that an event of the calibre of the Irish Open is coming to Portrush, a world class event on a world class golf course. I know every inch of this course and can vouch for its quality.
“I’m pleased for everybody in this part of the world and the decision to come here reflects the amazing run this relatively small golf community has had in the last couple of years. Best of all, it will be great to sleep in my own bed during that week.”
Rory McIlroy said: “Royal Portrush is one of the best courses in the world and to have the Irish Open there and play my first European Tour event in Northern Ireland in front of home fans will be very special.
“The course holds great memories for me; from watching my dad play in the North of Ireland there as a toddler to playing in it myself as a 15 year old and shooting a course record 61. It’s a superb set-up and players new to the course are going to love it.
“The rescheduling of the Irish Open to late June is also a great plus given that the Open Championship takes place three weeks later. Hosting an event on one of the best links courses in the world that close to an Open Championship, is sure to generate a strong field.”
Graeme McDowell said: “It has always been a dream of mine to play a big event, be it an Open Championship or a European Tour event, at Royal Portrush Golf Club, and I am going to be very proud to have The European Tour come to the town where I learned to play golf.
“It will be great to show The European Tour the excellent set-up at Royal Portrush. It is probably one of the best set-ups of a links golf course in the world and it will also be great to showcase the beautiful north coast of Ireland.
“It’s going to be great, obviously, to play in front of my home fans too. The Irish Open is a hugely important event for me, and Irish golfers in general, and to play that event in Portrush is going to make it extra special.”
Padraig Harrington said: “It is great news that there will be a major sporting event of the calibre of the Irish Open going to Northern Ireland this year and with the recent Major Championship successes of Graeme, Rory and Darren, it is an inspired move. Personally, I have many great memories of playing golf in the North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club, which quickly became my favourite course in the world.
“The Northern Irish public love their golf, always turn out in great numbers, and I’m sure will generate a great atmosphere. In addition, it is the perfect place to play links golf in the build-up to the Open Championship and I eagerly look forward to taking part.
“Furthermore, the news that 2013 will see the Irish Open return to Carton House is also very welcome. I finished in the top five there in 2005 so I know it is a course I can perform on and I will be looking forward very much to the tournament heading back to my home town.”
George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, said: “I applaud the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government for their vision in taking the Irish Open to Royal Portrush Golf Club, one of the world’s great links courses, a mere three weeks prior to The Open Championship. We are following on from a truly special two years for Northern Irish golfers on the world stage and we are delighted to be able to recognise their achievements in this way.”
Arlene Foster, Tourism Minister, Northern Ireland Executive, said: “The success of Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell has led many commentators to label Northern Ireland as the golfing capital of the world – this reputation has been borne out with this significant announcement today. Bringing the Irish Open to Royal Portrush will showcase our golf tourism offering to a worldwide audience and will provide a major boost to our local economy.
“The Irish Open is a welcome addition to our impressive programme of NI 2012 events. This is our year to change global perceptions and reposition Northern Ireland as a place to live, work, invest, study and visit.”
Redmond O’Donoghue, Chairman of Failté Ireland, said: “This commitment by The European Tour to Irish golf is great news but no surprise. On the back of two highly successful Irish Open events in Killarney, I can fully understand why the Tour would be so keen to continue to build on that progress. Given the success of Ulster golfers in recent years, it is very fitting that we stage the Irish Open in Portrush this year.
“Just as our northern stars have proven to be great advertisements for Irish golf, I am sure the Irish Open in Portrush will be a great calling card internationally for the sport on this island. Of course, I am equally pleased that we will be hosting the 2013 Irish Open at Carton House. During that particular year, we will be hosting The Gathering – the biggest tourism festival ever held in Ireland – and, as part of that, we look forward to making the Irish Open a special and unforgettable element of The Gathering programme.”