Golf: Top Euro golfers to tee up in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is poised to stage a major international golf championship, it was revealed today.

Northern Ireland is poised to stage a major international golf championship, it was revealed today.

Officials from the Northern Ireland Events Company are on the verge of sealing a deal bringing the first main PGA European tour event to the North.

Chief Executive John Walker hoped that a final decision would be made and an announcement made early in the new year.

‘‘We have been working for a long time to bring a major PGA European tour event with all of Europe’s top golfers.

‘‘This is one we hope to finalise within the month. It’s all part of the strategy that’s building on the resources we have with two of the best courses in the world,’’ he said.

If the deal goes ahead it is hoped that the event will begin in 2003 and would continue for a number of years.

The company, which is heavily involved in the staging of the Senior British Open, is also bidding to bring the veterans equivalent of the Ryder Cup to these shores.

‘‘The UBS Warberg Cup is the US v the Rest of the World. It was run very successfully for the first time in America and we are bidding to bring it to Northern Ireland in 2004/5,’’ said Mr Walker.

Appearing before the Stormont Culture Arts and Leisure Committee today, he said the aim was to attract up to six major international events a year to Northern Ireland.

‘‘We are absolutely certain we can bring world class events to Northern Ireland but we know we have to plan well ahead,’’

The company is working hard at attracting table tennis, gymnastics, judo and ice skating European and World Championships.

There are also plans to bring an Olympic class yachting event to the North.

Company chairman Ronnie Spence also revealed the intention to build the Belfast Festival into a major international event.

‘‘We are doing some work on the festival to see if we can lift it to another level. We are looking at more festivals throughout Northern Ireland to attract a wider audience into the region,’’ he said.

The Northern Ireland Events Company was set up in 1997, emerging from the old Positively Belfast group set up by Richard Needham.

This year it succeeded in bringing the World Amateur Boxing Championships to Belfast and is associated with the staging of concerts in the grounds of Stormont.

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