PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – For Rory McIlroy, Royal Portrush will always be the place where, at the age of 16, he broke the course record in stunning fashion, grabbing the attention of the golfing world.
But while that round of 61 at the 2005 North of Ireland Championship was clearly a sign of the great things to come for the four-time major winner, the arrival of the Open at the course has a significance for McIlroy beyond personal nostalgia.
It is 68 years since the one previous occasion when the course – and Northern Ireland – hosted an Open Championship and for much of that time the sectarian conflict in the country made such an event unthinkable.
Yet, such has been the progress in Northern Ireland since the signing of The Good Friday Agreement, in 1998, that what would once have been impossible now seems an almost natural event.
“I think it just means that people have moved on,” McIlroy said on Wednesday. “It is a different time. It is a very prosperous place.”