George O'Grady, Chief Executive of the European Tour, Arlene Foster, MLA, Minister of Enterprise Trade and Investment, and Peter Robinson, MLA, First Minister at Royal County Down yesterday. Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
Booked Up

You wait forever for an Irish Open in Northern Ireland - and then three come along together

Royal County Down and Lough Erne will stage the Irish Open in 2015 and 2017.

THE IRISH OPEN will return to Northern Ireland in 2015 and again in 2017, European Tour bosses confirmed yesterday.

Royal County Down Golf Club will host next year’s tournament from 28-31 May while the event will be staged at the Lough Erne resort in three years’ time.

The announcement follows the resounding success of the “sell-out” 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush, which was the first Northern Irish venue in more than 50 years.

The location for the 2016 renewal has not been confirmed yet although Cork’s Fota Island, which hosts this year’s tournament from 19-22 June, is believed to be the front-runner.

“It was Rory McIlroy’s inspired suggestion to me during the 2013 BMW Masters in China that proved to be the catalyst for today’s announcement,” European Tour chief executive George O’Grady revealed yesterday.

We are confident that our players will relish the chance to compete for the Irish Open title at this iconic links course next year.

McIlroy said: “We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing an Irish Open in Northern Ireland two years ago so it is fantastic news that we will have another chance in 2015 and again in 2017.

Royal County Down is another great links course, which I know particularly well, and it is one which I am very proud of as a Northern Irishman, so I’m delighted to have the opportunity to play an Irish Open there.

“I’m sure the fans will come out and support us again and make it another week to remember.”

World number 14 Graeme McDowell also endorsed the decision to stage next year’s tournament at the “very special” Royal County Down.

“Royal County Down is one of those courses that once you get to know it you realise just how much of a world class golf course it really is.

You have got to play it a few times to find your way round those blind tee shots, but the more and more you play it, the more you realise just how good it is.

Padraig Harrington leads the Irish challenge at Masters tune-up in Houston

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