Everyone's a winner before a ball is even struck at Portrush


EVERY TICKET for the four days of the Irish Open, which begins today at Royal Portrush in Co Antrim, has been sold – for the first time in the 40-year history of the European golf tour.

Irish Open organisers and Northern Ireland tourist chiefs were last night delighted at the success of the tournament, which has attracted some of the greatest golfers on the planet – many of them from Northern Ireland.

This is the first time the Irish Open has been held in Northern Ireland since 1953.

Gordon Simpson, the European tour’s head of media, said yesterday the full complement of 27,000 tickets a day had been sold for the four days. He said the organisers had always anticipated great interest but the level of excitement and demand for tickets exceeded all expectations.

“Even [yesterday’s] pro-am tournament attracted 14,225 spectators, which some events would be delighted to have on the final day of play.”

The combination of the sell-out and one of the strongest fields on the European Tour schedule had resulted in a major-like atmosphere at the links course, even before a competitive ball had been struck, added Mr Simpson.

The biggest crowds yesterday were for Irish golfers Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington. Also popular with the spectators were the celebrity players such as actor Bill Murray, former football greats Martin O’Neill and Pat Jennings, and singer Ronan Keating.

Meanwhile, to mark the arrival of the tournament to Northern Ireland, a huge new gable mural of McIlroy was completed yesterday in south Belfast. It was commissioned by Declan Boyle, who rents properties to scores of students in the Holyland area of the city, and also features representations of Queen’s University and the University of Ulster. It was painted by Danny Devenny, who painted many of the city’s well-known political murals.

“The mural presents Rory McIlroy as a role model for young people and shows to them what they can do through hard work and effort,” Mr Boyle said.