Return of British Open start of new era for Royal Portrush

Place on the Open rota a reward for a lot of hard work from different quarters

Jamie Donaldson in action on the 17th hole during the Irish Open at Royal Portrush. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Jamie Donaldson in action on the 17th hole during the Irish Open at Royal Portrush. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

 

The telltale signs of positive tidings were everywhere at Royal Portrush yesterday. A crammed car park, a crowded press briefing room. TV cameras and old-style flash bulbs. What’s more, politicians Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, positively beaming and sitting side-by-side at the top table, under the giveaway banner proclaiming the 148th British Open would be returning to the north Antrim coast.

Come the third week of July in 2019, some 68 years after its last staging on the famed Dunluce links back in 1951, the British Open will return to the Dunluce links which by then will have been given a modern face-lift by architect Martin Ebert. Even Darren Clarke, who knows every fescue and nuance of the old links, has been won over by Ebert’s plans to add touches to the masterpiece.

Links course

Clarke added: “When I looked at the changes initially, I thought, ‘uuummmm’. But whenever I went round with Martin and he explained them to me, I could really understand them. Then the more I looked at them, I thought, ‘that’s going to make this even better’. There is a difference between making it better and making it tougher. He is making it better. That is the difference.

The environment

Northern Ireland

This first one back, though, will be rather special. Ebert – from the Mackenzie & Ebert golf course architects – has designed two new holes utilising land from the adjoining Valley course to replace the 17th and 18th holes on the Dunluce which have been relinquished to, firstly, enable the land to be used as a spectator village and for infrastructure; and, secondly, to add holes that will enhance Harry Colt’s original redesign work in the early 1930s.

It was after the successful hosting of the Irish Open in 2012 that Clarke first approached then R&A chief executive Peter Dawson about bringing the Open itself back to the Causeway Coast.

“I thought it might have been worth a little bit of a nudge, as did the rest of the guys,” recalled Clarke, who was backed-up by fellow Major winners Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington in advancing the cause.

“Maybe G-Mac, Rory, myself and Padráig had a little bit to do with it but the R&A have taken a massive step with this,” added Clarke.

Whatever about the gentle and repeated prodding from the Irish Major winners, there were other factors. For one, George O’Grady, the former chief executive of the European Tour, pushing the return of the Irish Open to the links which enabled it to showcase its merits and also the work done on the ground by Royal Portrush’s manager Wilma Erskine and the club’s membership who agreed to an overhaul of its beloved course.

Bit by bit, the pieces of the jigsaw slotted into place to enable the R&A to, firstly, return Royal Portrush to the rota and, now, to confirm 2019 as the date.

Tee shots

Harry Colt

Bringing the Open back to Royal Portrush has, according to Martin Slumbers, the new chief executive of the R&A, taken “a significant amount of money” invested by the R&A, the Northern Ireland executive and Tourism NI. “What is important . . is the value of an Open coming in. Independent research we have done for here is that it will be worth about £70m to the local community and maybe more four years out. That is the real benefit we are putting into Northern Ireland and the local community.”

This is the start of a new era for the Open at Royal Portrush.

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