Golf

Darren Clarke never imagined Portrush would host The Open

2011 Open Champion Darren Clarke during a press conference at Royal Portrush Golf Club 
Phil Casey

FORMER winner Darren Clarke admits he never thought it would be possible to contest the Open Championship on home soil.

The R&A announced on Tuesday that Clarke's home course of Royal Portrush - where his replica Claret Jug is on display - will host the Open in 2019, only the second time golf's oldest major will have been played outside England and Scotland.

During past decades of violence in Northern Ireland, the prospect of hosting the Open would have been unthinkable.

And while the peace process has transformed the region, sporadic public disorder still has a tendency to flare as a result of loyal order parading disputes around the traditional 'Twelfth of July' commemorations.

In recent years trouble has been confined to certain small parts of Belfast but 2011 Open champion Clarke concedes he would have been "foolish" to imagine the Open returning to Portrush.

"I played a lot of my golf here, I lived here and was a proud member here, but to think would we ever get through the dark times Northern Ireland has had, to get to this stage where we have the biggest and best tournament in the world, I'd be very foolish to say yes," the European Ryder Cup captain said.

"Nobody could foresee that coming through in the bad old days, but to see how far we have all come, how far our politicians have moved this part of the country on, it's been brilliant."

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