By Gary Anderson

April 3 – Royal County Down will host next year's Irish Open golf tournament ©Getty Images The European Tour has today confirmed that the Irish Open golf tournament will return to Northern Ireland with Royal County Down Golf Club hosting next year's event, while the 2017 edition will take place at the Lough Erne Resort in County Fermanagh.

Royal County Down in Newcastle, County Down will host the event for the first time in 75 years, with the dates confirmed as May 28 to 31, 2015, while the Lough Erne course will be staging the Irish Open for the first time two years later.

The announcement comes after the staging of the 2012 Irish Open at the famous Royal Portrush Golf Club was viewed as a huge success and saw the tournament being held in Northern Ireland after an absence of almost 60 years, following the 1953 event at Belvoir Park in Antrim.

The 2012 tournament drew massive crowds and was sold out on each day, helped by the fact that Northern Ireland's three major winners, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke were part of the field.

Organisers are hopeful similar crowds will descend on the Newcastle course next year, which has also staged the Senior British Open from 2000 to 2002 and the 2007 Walker Cup.

Royal County Down Golf Club was recently voted fourth on Golf Digest's 2014 list of the World's Top 100 courses.

The Royal County Down course sits in the shadows of the magnificent Mourne Mountains ©Getty Images The Royal County Down course sits in the shadows of the magnificent Mourne Mountains ©Getty Images

Making the announcement at Royal County Down, chief executive of the European Tour, George O'Grady, paid tribute to the efforts of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Tourism Minister Arlene Foster in helping to secure the events and also revealed that a conversation with world number seven McIlroy helped sway the decision.

"The Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012 captured the imagination of the country after a lengthy absence, and we are delighted to confirm today that the tournament will be back in Northern Ireland next year, at another magnificent links venue in Royal County Down, before returning again in 2017 at Lough Erne Resort," said O'Grady.

"We must acknowledge the vision and commitment of First Minister Peter Robinson, Minister Arlene Foster, and their colleagues within the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to secure the return of the Irish Open to Northern Ireland in 2015 and 2017, which further underlines the country's presence on the world stage following the outstanding achievements of its players in recent years.

"Indeed, it was Rory McIlroy's inspired suggestion to me during the 2013 BMW Masters in China that proved to be the catalyst for today's announcement, and we are confident that our players will relish the chance to compete for the Irish Open title at this iconic links course next year."

The Lough Erne Resort hosted the G8 Summit of world leaders in June last year ©AFP/Getty ImagesThe Lough Erne Resort hosted the G8 Summit of world leaders in June last year ©AFP/Getty Images

The Northern Ireland Executive provided around £1.5 million ($2.4 million/€1.8 million) of funding for the 2012 tournament and although no details were revealed today, a similar amount is expected to be provided for next year's event.

While the Lough Erne Resort, just outside Enniskillen, will be hosting its first European Tour event, it is no stranger to staging high profile international gatherings after staging the G8 Summit of world leaders last June.

England's Paul Casey is the defending Irish Open champion following his victory at Carton House, County Kildare in 2013, while this year's tournament will be held at Fota Island, County Cork from June 19 to 22.

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