Despite the torrential rain, visitors flocked to the north coast of NI in the last weekend in June 2012 to celebrate the return of the Irish Open golf championship to Royal Portrush Golf Club for the first time in 65 years. With over 130,000 people attending the competition, the 2012 Irish Open has made history as the first ever regular event on the European Tour (ie, excluding Majors), to be completely sold out.

Golf tourism typically generates around £14 million in revenue in NI; however, in 2011, The Belfast Telegraph reported that trade sources believe hosting a Major golf tour could boost annual revenues to around £90 million. Following the record success of the 2012 Irish Open, there is speculation that the Royal and Ancient, organisers of the British Open, may consider hosting the competition at Royal Portrush in the near future. The campaign has the support of local golfing heroes Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, in addition to former number one male golf player in the world, NI-born Rory McIlroy. Dublin champion golfer Padraig Harrington has also lent weight to the initiative for Portrush to host the British Open, describing it as ‘my favourite course in the world’ (The Telegraph, 27th June 2012).

The NITB reports that golf tourists to NI spend around £300-450 per visitor, well above the £188 average visitor spend. Mintel’s Adventure and Outdoor Tourism – Ireland, May 2012 report indicates that the majority of visitors engaged in outdoor and adventure activities are domestic tourists (around 65% in both NI and RoI). The report found that some 20% of NI and 25% of RoI consumers had never played golf whilst on a holiday or short break in Ireland, but would consider doing so in the future.

Overseas Golf Tourists in Ireland

However, overseas tourists participating in outdoor and adventure activities generate significantly higher revenue per visitor than the average tourist. In light of this, Tourism Ireland and the NITB are heavily promoting NI as a prime location for golfing holidays to overseas markets, chiefly the US and GB. The campaigns highlight the provision of world-class courses (notably Royal Portrush and Royal County Down), and promote the successes of golfing ambassadors, McDowell, Clarke and McIlroy. Tourism Ireland participated in Golf Live at the London Golf Club in May 2012, and sponsored advertisements, interviews and features on the US-based Golf Channel during the US open.

In late 2011, signs were erected on entry to Portrush, declaring it to be the ‘Major Golf Capital of the World’, following Major championship wins by Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke over a thirteen month period. With golf being identified by Tourism Ireland as ‘the world’s largest sports-related travel market’, huge opportunities exist for NI to significantly develop its proposition as a golfing holiday destination.

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