New York: Rory McIlroy cannot wait to play in the Irish Open when it returns to Royal Portrush in June, the world number two said on Friday.
US Open champion McIlroy shot a 61 at the County Antrim links as a 15-year-old and also watched from behind the ropes as a toddler while his father Gerry strode the fairways there.
"Portrush is one of the best courses in the world and to have the Irish Open there and play my first European Tour event in Northern Ireland in front of home fans will be very special," said McIlroy after the venue was confirmed by officials on Friday.
"The course holds great memories for me, from watching my dad play there as a toddler to playing in it myself as a 15-year-old," he told the tour`s website (www.europeantour.com).
"It`s a superb set-up and players new to the course are going to love it."
McIlroy, 22, from Holywood near Belfast, said the June 28-July 1 event would attract a stellar field given its proximity to the British Open at Royal Lytham from July 19-22.
"Hosting an event on one of the best links courses in the world that close to an Open championship is sure to generate a strong field," said McIlroy who is dating Caroline Wozniacki, the world`s number one female tennis player.
British Open champion Darren Clarke is equally excited at the prospect of playing in the first Irish Open to be held in his home town of Portrush since 1947.
"I know every inch of this course and can vouch for its quality ... best of all it will be great to sleep in my own bed that week," said the former Ryder Cup player.
"I`m pleased for everybody in this part of the world and the decision to come here reflects the amazing run this relatively small golf community has had in the last couple of years."
Clarke became the third major winner from Northern Ireland in the space of 14 months following Graeme McDowell`s 2010 U.S. Open triumph at Pebble Beach and McIlroy`s masterclass at Congressional.
"The success of Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell has led many commentators to label Northern Ireland as the golfing capital of the world," said tourism minister Arlene Foster.
"This reputation has been borne out with this significant announcement today."