GOLF: Irish Open latest

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THE team at Royal Portrush Golf Club has not only invested countless hours of hard work over the years to bring a tournament like the Irish Open to the north coast, they have invested millions of pounds too.

Substantial investment in course improvements in the past 10 years and a loss of revenue for three weeks during the height of the season represent a considerable outlay - but it’s a financial ‘hit’ the club is willing to take.

In a statement, Royal Portrush Golf Club said: “Contrary to what some might think, Royal Portrush is not profiting from the tournament. For three weeks in what is the height of our season, we will have no visitor revenue coming into the club. On top of that we are employing additional staff to cope with the extra work needed to prepare for the tournament.

“We are all putting our heart and soul into it. We know it has to be right if Northern Ireland plc is to benefit from the positive legacy hosting a tournament of this level will create. The potential long term economic and tourism benefits it can bring, not only to the north coast but to the whole of Northern Ireland, cannot be underestimated.”

And as the clock ticks down to the end of June, staff at Royal Portrush Golf Club are getting the course ready to welcome some of the world’s top players, including our own three Major winners Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.

The announcement back in January that the club was to host the Irish Open marked the culmination of years of hard work behind the scenes to raise the profile of Royal Portrush and put it on the radar of organisations like the European Tour and R&A.

The club added: “Over the last 20 years the club has hosted a number of amateur and senior events which have helped to heighten the profile of Royal Portrush. Along with Royal County Down, Royal Portrush is in the Top 12 world rankings as a ‘must play’ course.

“Seven years ago the club set up a committee to look at tournaments that we could bring to Portrush to heighten our profile. We wanted a professional tournament to show the world the quality product we have to offer and prove that Northern Ireland can host a world class golfing event.”

Without a top quality course, there would be no top quality tournaments – and that is something the team at Royal Portrush has been mindful of over the years. They have also built up a very good relationship with the European Tour and the R&A. The club is also hosting the 2014 Amateur Championship.

The RPGC added: “We have spent several million pounds within the past 10 years on irrigation, upgrading practice facilities, the clubhouse and improving the surrounds in order to tick all the boxes needed to host a professional tournament.

“With the world evolving and new courses being created, we have to keep reminding people how good we are; we have to believe in our own product. Links golf has a unique appeal; it’s different to playing at resorts because if the wind blows one way, it becomes a completely different course.

“We had originally been aiming for 2013, as it is the 125th anniversary of Royal Portrush, but the success of our three Major champions and the momentum surrounding NI2012, created an unprecedented opportunity and funding from DETI was the last piece in jigsaw which made it possible to bring the Irish Open here.

“It has taken a tremendous amount of hard work to get here and we still have a lot of preparation to do before the tournament begins.”

There is a lot of work being carried out to the course itself because, after all, without the golf course there is no golf tournament.

The club statement explained: “Our Head Greenkeeper Joe Findlay is doing a magnificent job on the greens and extra walkways and bridges are being incorporated to improve the spectator experience.

“During the week of the Irish Open, 30-40 greenkeepers will travel to Portrush to work on the course free of charge. Our Chief Marshal Eric Fulton will head up a team of around 500 marshals – all volunteers - and we will also have around 60 ladies keeping score during the tournament.

“The fact that so many people are giving up their time voluntarily is fantastic and demonstrates the camaraderie that is at the heart of the preparations for this tournament. We all want to do everything we can to make the most of this opportunity to create a positive legacy for Northern Ireland.”