PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There’s a strong possibility the Open Championship will return to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for the first time in more than six decades, multiple sources told Golfweek. One insider said an announcement of a 2019 Open there could be made this summer.
The only time golf’s oldest major championship has been held outside Scotland and England was in 1951, when Max Faulkner won at Portrush.
“I believe it’s a done deal,” one source close to the situation said. “I think I’s have been dotted and T’s crossed except for when will it be held there and how often.”
The success of the 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush and political stability in Northern Ireland have been positive factors. Despite rain, that 2012 tournament reportedly set a European Tour attendance record, drawing more than 130,000 spectators for the week in the Tour’s first sellout.
The R&A and Royal Portrush are said to be in a crucial stage of negotiations and the governing body is close to inviting the club to go onto the Open rota. The club would have to get member permission and make several course changes.
Over the past few years the R&A has looked at the possibility of returning to Royal Portrush. The R&A has inspected the club’s highly regarded Dunluce Links course several times and this June will conduct the British Amateur Championship there. Speculation is an Open announcement could be made then, for the R&A announced a 2016 Open bid for Royal Troon when the Amateur was held there two years ago.
Royal Portush member Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, acknowledged that speculation about an Open at Royal Portrush has grown stronger. “It would be phenomenal for the whole country,” he said. “It would be huge for the economy and for Irish golf in general.”
McDowell said he and Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, fellow major champions from Northern Ireland, have “gently” lobbied for Portrush with R&A chief Peter Dawson.
“I don’t know (if) it’s a done deal; I’ve only heard the speculation,” McDowell said. “It’s been fairly solid speculation, but it’s speculation all the same. Until we have substantial, solid evidence to suggest that it’s going to happen, I don’t want to tempt fate.”
Said Clarke, the 2011 Open champion: “I hope the powers can get their heads around it and it will happen. There’s no question the golf course is good enough.”
Golfweek has been told that the Open would not use the current 17th and 18th holes and that Martin Ebert would design two new holes near the adjacent Valley Course. The land on the current Nos. 17-18 would be used for a hospitality area.
“It needs some changes, needs a little length, but it’ll be a solid Open venue,” said McDowell, mindful changes were made before the 2012 Irish Open. “I just hope I’m fit and well and eligible and exempt and all of the above in 2019 if it happens.”
Royal Portrush’s cause certainly wasn’t hurt last November when PGA of America president Ted Bishop said the course would be his personal first choice if the PGA decides to go ahead with the idea of occasionally contesting the PGA Championship outside of the United States.
– Alex Miceli contributed to this report