Wednesday 17 July 2019 3:00 pm

Northern Ireland set for £85m windfall as The Open arrives at Portrush

For just the second time in golfing history, the Open Championship is being held outside of England and Scotland this year.

This week the sport’s oldest and most prestigious tournament returns to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, where it was hosted on the only other occasion it left the British mainland in 1951.

For one man in particular, Rory McIlroy, returning to a venue where he set the course record with a round of 61 at the 2005 North of Ireland Championship when just 16 years old will be a special occasion.

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But for the country as a whole, it is also an opportunity to welcome a Major to its shores, showcase one of Britain’s finest courses to the world and, perhaps most significantly of all, deliver a huge boost to the economy.

With Dunluce Castle – a feature of hit television series Game of Thrones – looming in the background, the small town of Portrush on the north coast of Northern Ireland, which is usually home to just 7,000 people, will welcome around 215,000 fans over the event’s duration.

Between them they are expected to spend £17.5m at hotels, shops, restaurants and bars, with an estimated total economic impact of £33.4m for the whole country, according to a forecast by Sheffield Hallam University’s Sport Industry Research Centre.

Dunluce Castle, where some of the Game of Thrones’ series is set, looms in the background of Portrush’s iconic course

Organisers the R&A predict it will be the largest ever sport event hosted in Northern Ireland, while a study from Kantar Media says the country could derive a destination marketing benefit from global television exposure worth a further £50.9m, with around 600m households expected to tune in across more than 150 countries worldwide.

It means the tournament could bring a combined £84.3m economic boost to the country, a figure in the region of the R&A’s claim that The Open is worth up to £100m to its host region. Royal Birkdale derived benefits of around £85m in 2017 and Carnoustie’s £120m last year.

Unprecedented demand

Demand to attend The Open at Portrush has been unprecedented, forcing the R&A to make this edition all-ticketed for the first time in the tournament’s 148-year history.

It took just six weeks for the entire allocation to sell out last July, with plenty being sold before the drama unfolded at Carnoustie last year and Francesco Molinari claimed his first Major.

The excitement for this event’s arrival was there before that, before the £17m in renovations to the area, and before Tiger Woods lit up the comeback trail with a Masters win earlier this year.

A further 15,000 Championship Day tickets were released in April, selling out within three days.

Rory McIlroy will come under intense scrutiny as he plays a Major in front of a home crowd for the first time

The enhanced infrastructure, which includes major improvements to the nearest railway station, is part of an agreement that will see Royal Portrush host The Open three times before 2040.

More than that, it will also mean the area is eligible to host further events in future including the Senior Open and the Women’s British Open Championship. The Boys Amateur Championship will also be staged there next month.

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“The return of The Open to Royal Portrush is about to bring the greatest spectacle in world golf back into the heart of Northern Ireland,” said Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen. “The 148th Open is being widely welcomed as a showcase of epic proportions, not only for Royal Portrush Golf Club but for the town, for the Causeway Coast area and for Northern Ireland as a whole.

“The economic benefits of hosting The Open here will be felt for years to come, bringing visitors from across the globe to enjoy not only golf but all the other great experiences that Northern Ireland has to offer.”

While there will surely be intense scrutiny on McIlroy’s homecoming, this week all eyes will also be on Portrush.