Wilma delighted as The Open returns to the north coast

Darren Clarke with the Claret jug on the 5th green at the official announcement that The Open Championship is to be held in Royal Portrush in 2019, and twice more before 2040. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Darren Clarke with the Claret jug on the 5th green at the official announcement that The Open Championship is to be held in Royal Portrush in 2019, and twice more before 2040. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
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The north coast has been on a high following the news The Open Championship would be returning in 2019.

The buzz around Royal Portrush itself is at fever pitch, and is only going to get bigger as the tournament draw closer.

Wilma Erskine

Wilma Erskine

For one woman in particular it has been a culmination of over 30 years hard work.

Club Secretary/Manager, Wilma Erskine, has helped revived the fortunes of the famous links club since first stepping into the role in 1984.

“Portrush was an old, traditional club and, yes, very much a man’s world,” she recalled.

“I was a woman who had just turned 27 and, to be honest, I did think ‘What am I doing here?’ But I got people round to the way of thinking that we had to run the club as a business to make it successful.

“That was a gradual process. The committee, or board, at the club change year-on-year, but I am the one constant. They decide the policies and it is up to me to implement them.

“We knew we had a great golf course and that we had to bring people to the golf course, so they could enjoy the experience, and once that started to happen, we felt that they would come back and that word would get out just what a great experience it was to play Royal Portrush.

“The problem was that, in the 1980s and early 1990s, nobody wanted to come to Northern Ireland - let alone to play golf.

“Then we were given the Amateur Championship to host in 1993, when the R&A (Royal and Ancient) had the confidence that we could stage it. We had great crowds, and then we hosted other championships. As we forged strong relationships, then we started talking about holding an Irish Open.”

The Irish Open was a huge success in 2012 and Wilma’s ‘can do’ attitude has helped build on that success.

“We are very solid and able people in Northern Ireland, and I would certainly be one of those who would have said, ‘Why can’t we do this?’, rather than thinking, ‘We have no chance’,” said Wilma.

“With the Irish Open, everyone got behind it. We had record crowds and that really showed what we were capable of.

“And then, of course, discussions began about holding The Open, the biggest tournament of them all, and on Tuesday the R&A announced that it was going to happen in July 2019. That was a great moment and so positive for us as a club and Northern Ireland as a whole.

“Golf isn’t just a game. It is a huge industry, and the economic benefits for the country with The Open coming here will be huge. It won’t just be the week of the tournament, it will be everything surrounding it beforehand and the legacy it leaves afterwards.

“Everyone is working hard to make it a big success and, by the end of it all, we all be very proud.

“There are always hurdles to cross, but if you have the desire you can get there.

“I believe there is a great feeling with sport in Northern Ireland at the moment. Look at the success of the Giro d’Italia cycling race coming here and the Irish Opens that have been staged here. I’m sure The Open will be the same.”