Royal wish: Momentum gathering for Open return
Those who left Royal Portrush Golf Club on Sunday evening with the feel-good glow that great occasions naturally imbue in us may have wondered why it had taken so long for an Irish Open to return to the great links. They probably wondered, too, how soon it would be back again and if another giant step had been taken in the efforts to land an even bigger fish, the British Open.
In the afterglow of a resounding success, however, it is probably worth giving credit where credit is due that the Irish Open survived to actually make it to Royal Portrush in the first place. And certainly the PGA European Tour – with George O’Grady at the helm – and successive Irish governments deserve pats on the backs for ensuring that the tournament, despite severe financial difficulties, didn’t fade into the history books.
It might seem preposterous to suggest that the Irish Open could have gone the way of the dinosaurs. But think about it. Other tournaments, many of them with a rich history of their own, didn’t survive: the British Masters, the English Open, the European Open and what was the Benson Hedges International were all showpiece events on the European Tour and, yet, when push came to shove, all teetered on the edge and fell into a deep, black hole from which they have not returned.
So, the European Tour, who own the rights to the Irish Open, and various sports ministers and Taoisigh of recent years – and now joined by the Northern Ireland Executive – deserve whatever kudos are going for ensuring that the tournament not only survived through the tough times without a title sponsor but, as evidenced from Killarney these past two years and the unprecedented record-breaking crowds in Portrush, has set a new and impossibly high standard for all other “regular” events on tour to attempt to emulate.
Next year’s event will move to Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare, and the addition of the on-site 4-star hotel to that venue since it last staged the event will add to its appeal for players. It is also envisaged that the tournament will form part of “The Gathering”, next year’s big homecoming tourism initiative. It has a hard act to follow, but it can be done.
As for Royal Portrush, the return of the Irish Open is surely a formality but, for sure, it has also provided further evidence to support its claims to play host to the British Open championship again. It last hosted the Major in 1951. The momentum is building nicely.