The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation has brought international recognition of Northern Ireland’s golfing tourism product to a whole new level, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell has said.
With the remainder of the more than 90,000 spectators are expected to flock to Royal County Down to see some of the best golfers in the world battle the elements in a bid to take home the trophy on Sunday.
“In the run-up to the tournament, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open was described as ‘unmissable’ and that has certainly proven to be the case,” said Mr Bell.
“Golfing fans are voting with their feet and proving once again that when Northern Ireland hosts a major event, it really is special.
“Just as we did in 2012, when the Irish Open became the first European Tour event in history to sell out, this year’s event is putting Northern Ireland’s golfing tourism product front and centre on the international stage.
“Images of the stunning county Down coastline, with the majestic Mountains of Mourne as a dramatic backdrop, are being beamed right around the world as the international media spotlight focuses on this sell-out tournament.”
With many of the competitors using social media to say how impressed they are with the beautiful scenery, the course and the huge crowds which have flocked to the course, he said the coverage represented “the sort of positive publicity money simply cannot buy”.
Paying tribute to the ambassadorial role played by Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, he added: “Northern Ireland is in an unprecedented position of being home to three Major winning golfers, one of whom is the current World No.1.
“No wonder then, that so many people want to walk in their footsteps and play the courses that nurtured their game right through from amateur to champion.
And while, so far, things may not have gone as we would have liked them to on the course for Rory McIlroy, he has done tremendous work in bringing a top quality line-up to Royal County Down.
“As a sport, as a business and as a tourism asset, golf operates on a worldwide scale so there has never been a better time to tap into its potential.
“That is why my department, through Tourism NI, recently launched a new Golf Strategy for Northern Ireland, which aims to grow the value of golf tourism to £50million a year by 2020. The importance of golf tourism lies in attracting high spending visitors.
Research suggests that for every £1 spent on green fees in Northern Ireland a further £4 is spent elsewhere in the local economy.
“I want to see tourism here grow to become £1billion industry by 2020 and I believe golf has a major part to play in achieving this objective.”