Now Clarke starts Major push for Royal Portrush

FIRST he brought the Claret Jug home.

Now Darren Clarke is bringing the world’s best golfers back to Royal Portrush — or as many of them as he can persuade to warm up for the British Open itself on one of the world’s greatest links.

World number two Lee Westwood is actively considering a return to Irish Open action, according to manager Chubby Chandler, after yesterday’s confirmation that the 2012 event will be played over the Dunluce links in June.

Westwood is just one of a number of top players to contact Clarke with regard to the Irish Open’s return to Portrush for the first time since 1947, and its first trip North since 1953.

Such is the lure of the County Antrim links, overlooked by Clarke’s new home, that the Ulster man expects many more BnB requests before the first round on June 28 next.

“I’m not going to name names but some of the biggest players in the game have been on to me since it was confirmed that the Irish Open is coming here to Portrush,” revealed Clarke, although Tiger Woods is tied up at the AT&T tournament in Congressional that week.

“We are talking big names. They have been asking me about the course, accommodation, all sorts of things. I hope some of them at least come and I may be asking for a few favours if I can. That’s how big this tournament can be. The fact it is just three weeks out from the Open at Lytham is a bonus and may persuade them to play. This is a huge day for Irish golf and for Northern Ireland.”

Like many present at yesterday’s launch, Clarke knows the Irish Open could be the forerunner of even greater things to come for a seaside town that welcomes visitors to ‘the home of Major golf’.

“On behalf of Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and myself, I am very proud knowing how good it is that we have the Irish Open coming to this great golf course,” he added. “We have been singing the praises of Royal Portrush for some time. I have no doubt the course will stand up to the sternest test it can receive at the end of June and I hope the Royal and Ancient will be here and see for themselves that this course is good enough to hold the [British] Open championship.”

Surrounded by dignitaries from both sides of the Irish border yesterday, Clarke was the proudest man in the room as confirmation arrived of the tournament’s cross-border visit ahead of a return to Carton House in 2013.

“It is wonderful to see. I am not a politician but, as everyone knows, Northern Ireland has seen it’s fair share of troubles. We have been through our stretch of the troubles. I was born in 1968, I grew up in a lot of the worst of it but this is such a huge step forward. Sport bridges a lot of things and golf in Ireland has always done this.

“The GUI helped me all the way through my amateur career and it is what it is — the Golfing Union of Ireland. It is not north or south, it is the GUI. In terms of having the Irish Open up here now, it is a huge reflection on how much people have moved our country on. To have an Irish Open at Royal Portrush is fantastic. I hope now that it gets the response from the players and the spectators that the tournament deserves. I’m confident it will.”

Those who ask his opinion before June will find Clarke wholesome in his praise of the Dunluce links where he fine-tuned his game ahead of his Major win at Sandwich last summer.

“My advice to all the players is simple — this is a course that presents a totally different challenge on every hole,” he said.

“It is one of Harry Colt’s proudest achievements. He favoured Portrush over every other course he designed, even Muirfield. This course requires you to use every club in the bag, which is always the sign of a great golf course. Add that to the links and 40mph winds and this can be the ultimate test.”

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