GOLF-Clarke hopes his Open success will boost N.Ireland

Reuters

Tue, 19 Jul 16:27:00 2011

Darren Clarke presented the gold medal he won for scooping the British Open to his home town golf club in Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

The last Northern Irishman to win the British Open was Fred Daly in 1947 and his gold medal has pride of place in a showcase at the foot of the stairs in the club house at Royal Portrush.

"I want this one to go beside it", Clarke said as he handed over his medal to the club captain to loud applause.

The third Northern Irishman to win a golf major in 13 months -- after Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy's back to back wins at the US open -- Clarke said he had no idea how a province with a population similar to that of the German city of Hamburg had produced so many golfing greats.

"For a small country, to do what we have done is just incredible."

Politicians in Northern Ireland are already working on using the successes to boost tourism to a region more often in the headlines for sectarian violence and the legacy of three decades of geurrilla warfare.

"People in the past have had a very one sided view about what goes on in Northern Ireland," said Clarke. "But 99.9 percent of the people you meet here would be genuine, honest, friendly people -- that is what we are like."

"We have some of the finest golf courses in the world here. I hope the success of Rory and GMac and now my success will maybe tempt people to come here and pay us a visit."

The British golfing authorities are also looking at the possibility of taking the British Open to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951. The earliest that could happen is 2015.

"There is a lot of momentum behind it at the moment and I hope it happens", said Clarke, adding that if you could play at the windswept course, "you can play anywhere".

A couple of thousand people turned out to cheer Clarke when he arrived at the club on the Co Antrim coast with his two young sons and fiancee, model agency boss and former Miss Northern Ireland Alison Campbell.

After two days of hard partying he arrived wearing dark glasses and made clear the only sober thing about him was the grey pinstripe suit he was wearing.

He promised to pick up the golf clubs again before the end of the week to get in some practice before the Irish Open in Killarney next week.

But he was adamant that the party still had some time to run: "There will be a few more bar bills yet".

After signing autographs, acknowledging the cheering crowds he grabbed the famous silver Claret Jug Open trophy and headed off promising to put "a few alcoholic concoctions" in it as he partied the night away.

 

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