Northern Ireland is to host the Irish Open not once, but twice over the next three years.
The Province will host both the 2015 competition and the 2017 one, with the tournament coming to Royal County Down and to Lough Erne, respectively.
The 2015 event will be staged on May 28 to 31, and will mean that by 2017 the Province will have hosted the Irish Open three times within five years, not having hosted it for more than 50 years before that. It will be the first time in 76 years that the event has been played at the Co Down course.
For the Fermanagh venue, the 2017 event will be an outright first.
Speaking at the Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle, First Minister Peter Robinson said: “When Northern Ireland hosted the 2012 Irish Open we staged an incredibly successful event, which not only exceeded our own expectations but it also became the first European Tour event in history to sell out,” adding that the he is sure next year’s contest will be just as successful.
“With the Irish Open secured for 2015 and 2017, we look forward to building on the legacy of events such as the Irish Open in Royal Portrush in 2012, last year’s highly successful G8 Summit and the World Police and Fire Games.”
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “The positive images beamed across the globe during coverage of the 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club brought with them immeasurable positive PR for our tourism product.”
It had been reported in Wednesday’s News Letter that an official announcement was due to confirm Royal County Down as next year’s venue.
Speculation had been mounting since February that the course may host it.
At that time, the prospect was widely welcomed by people such as Myrtle Macauley, owner of Beach House Bed and Breakfast, who said that the region was “the forgotten gem on the Northern Ireland tourist landscape”, and that it deserved to be shown off to the world.
When it was formally revealed yesterday, along with the 2017 plans, the European Tour’s chief executive George O’Grady also declared that the upcoming Co Down setting was the “inspired suggestion” of golfing star Rory McIlroy.
Speaking from Texas, where he is playing at the Shell Houston Open, Rory said it is “great news that the Irish Open is going to be played at Royal County Down in 2015, a golf course that I have really fond memories of”.
He added: “I played the Walker Cup there in 2007, and I grew up not too far away. So great to see the Irish Open come back to Northern Ireland and a great links course.”
Royal Co Down is consistently rated one of the best courses in the world.