Royal Portrush is one of six clubs on the island that has a royal prefix
County Down, Belfast, Dublin and Curragh also got a royal honour
A sign welcoming visitors to Portrush for the Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club. The club was founded in 1892, and received its royal imprimatur the same year. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The venue for this year’s Open championship, Royal Portrush, is one of six clubs on the island that has the royal prefix, five of which were bestowed by the British monarchy.
Royal County Down, Royal Belfast, Royal Dublin and Royal Curragh are others to have received the honour, while Royal Tara, which completes the list, derived its name in recognition of its geographical location as the historical seat of the high kings of Ireland.
According to Scott Macpherson’s definitive book on the matter, Golf’s Royal Clubs, the search for royal patronage began in 1833 when the captain of the Perth Golfing Society, Lord Kinnaird, went to address King William IV who had recently taken up the game. It asked him to become a patron of the society and in response sought permission to change the name to the Royal Perth Golfing Society. His request was granted.
Clubs could seek patronage from a member of the British monarchy or have their status granted by the reigning monarch of that time. The criteria for approval were subsequently restricted to “institutions of eminence, long standing and secure financial position, and devoted to national, charitable and scientific object”, said Macpherson.
According to an article in Golf World in 2017, there are currently 66 clubs worldwide with the designation “royal” in the title.
In terms of the British Open rota of courses, Portrush (1892) was the second to enjoy the honour following Liverpool (1871) and ahead of St George’s (1902), Lytham St Anne’s (1926), Birkdale (1951) and the last to be recognised on the list Troon (1978).
Portrush was founded in 1892, and unusually received the royal imprimatur in the same year. From an Irish perspective it is the only course to manage that feat. The then duke of York, George V, was a patron, while the ruling British monarch of the time, Queen Victoria, agreed to its request.
Curragh Golf club successfully petitioned to be called Royal Curragh in 1910, Edward V11 granting the request. However, it was not until 2013 following an agm in which the members agreed to revive a status awarded some 103 years earlier that the club changed its name to Royal Curragh.
Club historian Bill Gibson wrote to the British home office in September 1981, to ascertain the status of the Kildare golf club. He received a response from an LP Little. The letter which he recounted in an interview with Dermot Gilleece read: “From our records we have been able to trace the following information which I think answers your three questions: On August 6th, 1910, the commander-in-chief of the [British] forces in Ireland wrote to the secretary of state applying for the grant of the title Royal to the club [Curragh].
“In doing so he informed us that all early records of the club had been lost around the time of the South African War, but that there were references in an ‘Irish Golfers’ Guide’ to the club being founded in about 1855.
“Our records show that the club was granted the title Royal in September 1910, and we have a letter from the then captain of the club, dated October 1st, 1910, addressing the club’s thanks to His Majesty for conferring the title on the club.”
The letter concluded: “We have no evidence to show that the title was ever withdrawn from the club.”
Edward V11 also offered his patronage to both Royal County Down and Royal Belfast, while Queen Victoria agreed to a petition from Royal Dublin, a club founded in 1885 by Scottish banker John Lumsden following a meeting in Grafton Street under the name the Dublin Golf Club but subsequently given the royal moniker in 1891.
The Royal Dublin Society (RDS) – it was originally called the Dublin Society – which stages sporting events including rugby matches and the Dublin Horse Show, pre-dates all the Irish golf clubs having received its royal charter in 1820.