The chance for Newcastle to host golf’s Irish Open next year would be an opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland’s “forgotten gem” to the world.
That was the view of one local businesswoman in the seaside town in reaction to the news that one of golf’s biggest tournaments may be set for the Royal County Down course.
Considered one of the best in the world, the links course has been ranked at number two by the Telegraph newspaper, beating others in America, South Africa and Barbados.
The news that it may host the Irish Open for the first time since 1939 had not been made official on Thursday when the News Letter visited the picturesque course, located next to the Slieve Donard Hotel and boasting spectacular seafront views.
A spokesperson for The European Tour said: “Nothing has been agreed re the staging of the 2015 Irish Open as we have a number of interested parties.”
Even the club’s own secretary David Wilson was unable to verify the speculation, but he added that if the option arose, members agreed and the club was able to accommodate the tournament, they would be happy to stage something that would undoubtedly boost the local economy.
“There is great expectation and a great desire after the success of the tournament in Portrush for the Irish Open to come back to Northern Ireland,” he said. “But I am afraid I have had to dampen speculation at this stage.”
He said the members-only club normally works on an 18-month to two-year advance basis when booking events, but noted the quick turnaround for the Portrush event which was announced in January 2012 and held just six months later.
While the rumours had just about filtered through by lunchtime on Thursday, there was already some excitement at the thought of the prestigious event being held in the town, and bringing with it top golfers including Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
Myrtle Macauley, who owns Beach House Bed and Breakfast, said golfers who have stayed for previous tournaments including the Senior British Open and Walker Cup have been amazed at the setting.
“It is the forgotten gem on the Northern Ireland tourist landscape and this area fully deserves to be showcased with something like the Irish Open coming here,” she said.
Some members of nearby Mourne Golf Club who also play on the Royal County Down course said they were hopeful they may be enlisted as stewards if the event went ahead.
Paddy McGeown and John Quinn from the town teed off yesterday morning with an extra spring in their step, having heard the news.
“A course like this deserves to see the best players in the world on it,” said 63-year-old Paddy.