Tickets for Irish Open almost sold out

Next month's Irish Open golf championship at Royal Portrush is set to become a near sell-out.

With Open champion Darren Clarke, US Open champion Rory McIlroy and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell lined up to play, European Tour organisers confirmed a massive demand for tickets.

Passes for the final two days, when crowds are restricted to 27,000 each day, have have almost gone and more than 40,000 have already been sold for the opening two days.

The championship begins on June 28, the day after the traditional pro-am event when as many as 12,000 fans are expected on the fairways of the famous Dunluce links on the north coast.

This is the first time the Irish Open will be played in the North since 1953 and could be the best-attended event in Europe this season, outside the Open at Royal Lytham.

Championship director Antonia Beggs said: "Over the four days we are getting near that magic 100,000-mark. We always knew it was going to be an amazing event.

"You've got three Major winners from Northern Ireland and we knew interest would be high. But the level of interest has been fantastic, absolutely phenomenal."

Senior staff at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board are on a huge promotional offensive and even though Royal Portrush had just six months to get the venue ready for the the biggest golf championship in over half a century - the Open was played there in 1951 - Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said the event was an opportunity to showcase the North like never before.

"This is a time for us to shine right across the world. Our three golfing giants have helped us achieve that opportunity because the way they've performed so brilliantly in the last two years," she said.

Clarke, who won the Open at Sandwich last year, will not play competitive golf again until day one of the tournament because of a groin strain which has been troubling him since before The Masters.

But he still hopes he will he ready to tee up on a course which is just minutes away from his home and which he described as one of the finest in the world.

Other players on the European tour could not wait to take part in a showcase event, he said, adding that he is hoping for 20mph winds and some rain to help toughen up the course and conditions.

As a former winner of the North of Ireland amateur championship on the links, he joked: "I'd probably play in a Zimmer frame if I have to. Hopefully I'll be fit and ready."

Clarke said winning the Irish Open would be special, particularly at Royal Portrush where he first played as an 11-year-old boy, and he accepted that Irish fans would have a high level of expectation. Local knowledge would be important.

The winning score was not the most important issue for the fans. He just wanted them to be excited by the action. His lowest round was a 62 and 10-under.

He said: "The weather will dictate what the scores are going to be. If we have good weather and its 20-under-par then that would be fine.

"At the end of the day we make our living out of golf but we are also in the entertainment industry. If people want to come in and see us making birdies and eagles, that's okay with me.

"Some of the courses where you have four or five under par don't really appeal to me. People want to see us making birdies. So if its 20-under-par, great. But if it blows at 20mph and it's 10-under-par its still fine with me because the course is playing tough.

"At some links golf courses the prevailing winds are straight out and straight back in again. So you have an easy nine and a tough nine.

"At Portrush you have different angles of the wind coming all the time. People are going to have options. So you'll see lots of birdies and hopefully lots of bogies as well. That's the type of excitement you want people to watch."

Asked if he felt the Open championship would someday return to the north coast, he said: "This is obviously a stepping stone towards the bigger goal of getting the Open back here. Infrastructure-wise, it's not the easiest course (and area) to get people around. But the tour have done a wonderful job and I'm sure the Royal & Ancient are paying attention.

"Everybody involved in this event will be doing everything possible to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible and I'd like to think, come Monday, after it finishes, the R&A will take another serious look at possibly bringing the Open here."

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