Rory McIlroy played a major part in Northern Ireland staging the Irish Open twice in the next three years, the European Tour said on Thursday.
Royal County Down will host the tournament for the first time since 1939 from May 28-31 next year, with Lough Erne Resort staging the event in 2017.
The Irish Open was last held in Northern Ireland in 2012, when record crowds watched Jamie Donaldson’s victory at Royal Portrush.
European Tour chief executive George O’Grady said: “The Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012 captured the imagination of the country after a lengthy absence and we are delighted to confirm today that the tournament will be back in Northern Ireland next year at another magnificent links venue in Royal County Down, before returning again in 2017 at Lough Erne Resort.
“We must acknowledge the vision and commitment of First Minister Peter Robinson, Minister Arlene Foster and their colleagues within the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to secure the return of the Irish Open to Northern Ireland in 2015 and 2017, which further underlines the country’s presence on the world stage following the outstanding achievements of its players in recent years.
“Indeed, it was Rory McIlroy’s inspired suggestion to me during the 2013 BMW Masters in China that proved to be the catalyst for today’s announcement and we are confident that our players will relish the chance to compete for the Irish Open title at this iconic links course next year.”
Former world number one McIlroy, who succeeded compatriot Graeme McDowell as US Open champion in 2011, said: “We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing an Irish Open in Northern Ireland two years ago so it is fantastic news that we will have another chance in 2015 and again in 2017.
“Royal County Down is another great links course, which I know particularly well, and it is one which I am very proud of as a Northern Irishman. I played the Walker Cup there in 2007, and I grew up not too far away so I’m delighted to have the opportunity to play an Irish Open there. I’m sure the fans will come out and support us again and make it another week to remember.
“It’s also great news that the Irish Open will be coming back north in 2017 and will be played at the Lough Erne Golf Resort. Obviously I was the touring professional there for a number of years, and I think that it will present a really good test for the guys whenever the Irish Open is played there.”
The Irish Open’s return to Northern Ireland reinforces the country’s position at the forefront of the game, following the ground-breaking major success of its players on the global stage.
McDowell echoed Rory’s sentiments adding;“It’s great to hear the Irish Open will return to the north in 2015 and 2017. There are few better golf courses in the world to play than Royal County Down so it’s all good as far as I am concerned,” he said.
“It’s important that the fans get to see their favourite players north and south, so we support the Irish Open always no matter where it is, but as Northern Irish players, to have played Portrush in 2012 and to be heading to Royal County Down next year is very special.
“The 2012 Irish Open at Portrush really put Northern Ireland back on the golfing map. I don’t think anyone really knew just how big that event was going to be as it smashed all sort of European Tour records. I think that proved how big the appetite for golf is in this part of the world, and I am sure Royal County Down will bring its own success.”
England’s Paul Casey won the Irish Open at Carton House last year and will defend his title at Fota Island in Cork from June 19-22. Fota Island could also stage the 2016 event.