R&A will look closely at Royal Portrush as Open venue


GOLF:ANY FUTURE decision on whether to return Royal Portrush to the rota for the British Open will only be taken after a further feasibility study conducted by the R&A.

R&A chief executive, Peter Dawson, yesterday conceded that a third Major champion from Northern Ireland in little over a year “increases the interest level” in the possibility of the championship making a return to the Causeway Coast. It played host to the event, for the one and only time, in 1951.

“We’ll take a closer look at Portrush,” said Dawson, adding the rider: “What it doesn’t have, I don’t know yet until we’ve had another look at it. But I have agreed to look. The usual mixture of a great course and plenty of infrastructure combined with a prospect of commercial success is what is needed. There’s no doubt about the golf course, the other two are what we have to look at.” He added: “I don’t want to start a hare running on this, other than we are going to take a look.”

Any move to bring the British Open to Royal Portrush – where Max Faulkner won in 1951 – would be a financial windfall for the region, with an economic impact study estimating that playing host to the championship in Sandwich was worth an estimated €91 million (£80 million) to the area.

However, the earliest available date on the rota is 2016. The championship remains in England, at Royal Lytham and St Annes, next year before returning to Scotland at Muirfield in 2013 and then being staged at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake in 2014.

Although no announcement concerning the 2015 venue has been made yet, it is expected to be staged at St Andrews.

When asked if the political situation in Northern Ireland was no longer a consideration, Dawson replied: “No, I can’t say that emphatically. Things seem to be getting an awful lot better but I have been reading of some difficulty in the papers lately . . . it will be one of the things we take into account, although I don’t think it is right at the forefront of our mind.”

The British Amateur Seniors championship is actually scheduled to take place at Royal Portrush in two weeks’ time which will give the RA an early look at the course but this will not be used as part of the official study.

Naturally enough, given it is where he learnt his links golf, the new champion would like nothing better than the British Open returning to Royal Portrush. However, in a diplomatic response, Darren Clarke admitted: “The logistics are very hard to measure in terms of the Open, how many people you’re going to have, and bedrooms and all that sort of stuff. The RA, they’ve been doing it for a very long time, so they know what’s required.”

What is certain is that Clarke’s win on top of last month’s US Open success by Rory McIlroy gives a huge boost to the Irish Open, supported by Discover Ireland, which takes place over the Killeen course at Killarney next week. Clarke and McIlroy will headline a field in the €1.5 million tournament that will also include the two other recent Irish major winners, McDowell and Pádraig Harrington.

“We’ve been struggling with the Irish Open since 3 pulled out, we’ve had a tough time (attracting a new sponsor), and the Irish Open has been one of the oldest and most established tournaments on the European Tour. This year we’re fortunate that we’re still down in Killarney with the opportunity to keep it going.”

There is also an argument that, down the line, Royal Portrush could stage the Irish Open – which is actively looking for a sponsor, with international insurance group Zurich linked as a possible future title sponsor – which would acknowledge the current input of Messrs Clarke, McIlroy and McDowell to golf in Ireland but also to showcase the course’s ability to cater for crowds and possibly then stage the British Open.

As far as the Irish Open being staged at Portrush to showcase itself, Dawson remarked that it was a “matter for the European Tour”.