Open Championship to present Portrush with both windfall and challenge

Northern Ireland will need to invest in infrastructure and in efforts at stable society to reap benefits

Portrush’s Graeme McDowell. The last time the British Open Championship was held in Portrush in 1951 was also the last time the oldest of the four golf majors was hosted outside Britain. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Portrush’s Graeme McDowell. The last time the British Open Championship was held in Portrush in 1951 was also the last time the oldest of the four golf majors was hosted outside Britain. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 01:00

Max Faulkner pocketed £300 when he won the Open Championship in Portrush in 1951, the last time the oldest of the four golf majors was hosted outside Britain.

The champion last year picked up a cool £945,000 – and that figure will rise when the tournament returns to the north Antrim coast in 2019.

The leading golfers won’t be the only ones cashing in. Accommodation providers are in line for a windfall, and they do not have to look too far to see how it is done.

Stan and Mary Hastie run a top-rated guesthouse in St Andrews, the “home of golf”, which stages the Open every five years. They normally charge around £90-£95 per night at their well-regarded B&B.

“We charged £1,750 for a double room for the week, Monday to Monday,” said Stan, looking back to the 2010 Open. “We have five double rooms and we charged £1,000 for a single room. Our friends who also have a guesthouse charged £25,000 for a seven-bedroom house.”

Portrush currently has just eight hotels listed on TripAdvisor; the top-rated of those have yet to decide what to charge when the world’s biggest tournament comes to town.

The R&A, the tournament’s organisers, and the Stormont executive, are no doubt happy local providers will earn good money when the event tees off. But they are also looking to the long term.

The Stormont Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment wants to build the North’s tourism sector. Minister Arlene Foster said last month the aim was to generate £1 billion from tourism. At present, golf tourism generates just £22 million of that annually – but that proportion is set to grow as Ireland, North and South, makes its pitch for the high-spending international golfer. And with good reason.

Marketing

According to Tourism Ireland, the body charged with marketing the island of Ireland globally, travel and tourism GDP grew faster than other global sectors such as manufacturing, retail and financial in 2013.

The outlook for the travel and tourism industry in 2014 is even more promising than 2013, with the sector’s contribution to GDP expected to grow by 4.3 per cent this year. However, investment, both in terms of infrastructure and political stability, will also need to be made.

The famous Dunluce championship course in Portrush will be remodelled to present a stiffer challenge to the world’s best golfers and to help accommodate the vast “tented village” for spectators and media that is part of the whole jamboree.

The north coast already successfully accommodates the North West 200, an annual motorcycle road race that draws 140,000 people. It also triumphed with its staging of the 2012 Irish Open golf championship, which established itself as the only European Tour event ever to sell out, with some 150,000 turning up.

Last month’s opening stages of the Giro d’Italia showed the organisational capability is there to stage large sporting events that attract big crowds and global TV audiences.

But some things cannot be changed – and the Twelfth of July is one of them. The Open is staged each July, which coincides with some of the worst tension and unrest in the North.

Security

The PSNI has shown it can provide sufficient security for the G8 group of world leaders when they met at the Lough Erne Resort in Fermanagh last year.

But Northern political leaders have yet to demonstrate they can help create a society free from tension and street violence. The last thing anyone from the R&A, the Stormont Executive, Royal Portrush Golf Club or the people of the north coast want is the prospect of a pall of smoke somewhere on the horizon.