Portrush hosting The Open is a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come – Clarke

Darren Clarke says Royal Portrush hosting The Open is a sign of the “incredible journey” everyone in Northern Ireland has come through, as hosting the tournament previously seemed “beyond the realms of possibility”.

Golf’s oldest major is back at Portrush for the first time in 68 years and 2011 champion Clarke believes it represents a marquee moment following the Northern Ireland conflict, a period in the country’s history also known as ‘The Troubles’.

Clarke recently revealed he was almost a victim of the violence while working at a bar in 1986, with the establishment evacuated before a car bomb went off outside the venue.

“It was a job that I had setting up a bar and there was a bomb behind it. We got a bomb scare. And everybody out – I was in there from six o’clock. The club opened at 8.30,” he said. 

“I’d been setting up one of the bars. The bomb scare was at 8.30, everybody out, bomb went off at 9.00 and the place was flattened.

“That was life in Northern Ireland. Bombs were going off quite frequently. And a lot of people, unfortunately, paid a heavy penalty for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that was our life back there at that stage.

“You think about it at that stage, with everything that was going on, whether we were ever going to have a tournament such as this. It was beyond the realms of possibility. It was just never going to happen. 

“So, to get to the point where you guys [the media] are all sitting here doing this has been an incredible journey for what we’ve all come through.”

It will be a particularly poignant moment for Clarke on Thursday when he has the honour of hitting the opening tee shot at the 148th Open.

“Will there be tears? No. I’ll just be very proud that we have it back here in Northern Ireland,” Clarke added. 

“It goes without saying, it’s a huge thing to have it [The Open] back here in Northern Ireland again.”

The benefit of local knowledge has been something Clarke’s peers have been keen to tap into and he has been only too happy to share his wisdom, though that fierce competitive nature still exists within him.

“Yeah, of course I want to beat them!” Clarke said. “But at the same time, they’re all good guys, I like them all. I’ve been giving them whatever information that they wanted and a little bit more.”