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Bushmills Dunes ready to make a splash in Northern Ireland

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The party continues in Northern Ireland. Fresh off three recent major championship winners and the decision by the European Tour to bring the Irish Open to Royal Portrush (in all likelihood a move that brings the club closer to its first Open Championship since 1951), country officials have approved the construction of proposed Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort & Spa.

The resort will be built at Runkerry, minutes from the world's oldest whiskey distillery and a mile from the entrance to Giant's Causeway. Plans call for an 18-hole links course designed by David McLay Kidd, plus a nine-hole, par-3 course, 125-room hotel and 75 residences.

The country's environment minister, Alex Attwood, approved the 100-million-pound project that is the product of Dr. Alister Hanna, a Northern Irishman who is now based in the United States. Attwood said that despite opposition, the project was approved to help boost tourism and the resort will be held to the highest environmental standards. Hanna, who owns Ardtara Country House Hotel in County Derry, says the project is exactly what the region needs to complete itself as a golf destination.

'We aim to match the quality of Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, said Hanna. 'There are very few places in the world where someone will be able to play four world-class links golf courses, all within a half hour of each other. St. Andrews is about the only other one.'

The country's Causeway Coastal Route is one of the world's great scenic drives, full of spectacular sights like the cliff-hanging Dunluce Castle ruins and the mysterious natural phenomenon of Giant's Causeway. In between lie world-class golf and the Bushmills Distillery.

So how good is the site at Bushmills Dunes? Well, Kidd reportedly told Hanna when applying for the gig that 'if I can't get your course into the Top 50 you should shoot me.'

Marty Carr, Chief Executive of Carr Golf, is already excited about what Bushmills Dunes will bring to Northern Ireland. He predicts Royal Portrush should be awarded with a British Open by 2020. 

'I am not sure where else in the West that an ambitious golf project like this could be launched in 2012 but in Northern Ireland,' Carr said.