Published Monday, 02 July 2012
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Open hopes for north coast
Interview: Jamie Donaldson
Interview: Rory McIlroy
Interview: Padraig Harrington
Interview: Graeme McDowell
Interview: Darren Clarke
Interview: Michael Hoey
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Newly crowned Irish Open champion Jamie Donaldson is just one of those to hail the North Coast course and the local golf fans as world-class.
"The crowds are up there with the best I've ever seen and the course is obviously incredible," he told UTV.
"It's just an amazing place to play golf - this golf course is as good as anywhere in the world and the crowds are pretty much the same."
Even those most familiar with the venue were blown away by the turn-out and the warmth of the hospitality.
"All the players are saying this is by far the best tournament they've been to crowd-wise," Ballymoney's Michael Hoey said, branding it a "step in the right direction" towards bringing the British Open to Northern Ireland.
You finish a lot of Sunday afternoons and there's not too many people worried about you, so it's nice when you've got a big crowd clapping.
Dubliner Padraig Harrington has long held Portrush among his favourite courses to play, but admitted even his expectations had been surpassed and said he'd love to see more tournaments held there.
"I think the players loved the golf course," the three-time major winner told UTV.
"They might not have loved the weather earlier on in the week, but I think they loved the course."
Northern Ireland's trio of major winners are also all agreed that golf's governing body, the Royal and Ancient, needs to turn its attention to the North Coast and examine the possibility of it hosting even bigger tournaments.
"Royal Portrush has shown that it's definitely tough enough for an Open championship," Rory McIlroy said.
"It's a good test out there. I don't see any reason why they shouldn't consider it."
For local golfing hero Graeme McDowell, his home town has already taken a massive step towards its next goal after more than 130,000 spectators turned out over the last four days.
That made this year's Irish Open - the first to be held in Northern Ireland since 1953 - the first regular event in European Tour history to completely sell out.
"All we've done this week is kinda put our chips in the middle of the table and say we're good enough, we can do this," G-Mac told UTV.
"Everyone's done an incredible job and the crowds have been magnificent, welcoming Irish and international players alike onto the greens."
Another star who calls Portrush home, Dungannon-born Darren Clarke, has long been an out-spoken advocate of Royal Portrush's attributes and believes his point has been proved.
"The crowds make an event, they make it even more special for the players, and the support that they've come along and shown us all this week has been wonderful ..." he said.
"But it's not for me to decide. It's been a wonderful event and I'm sure the R & A will take a look at it. There's no question the course is good enough to stage the Open.
For now though, for players and fans alike, it's simply a question of waiting to see what the future holds for golf and golfing tourism in Northern Ireland.