Irish Open at Royal Portrush, where it belongs

The par-3 third hole at Royal Portrush.

The par-3 third hole at Royal Portrush.

This year’s Irish Open quickly has become the tournament most true golf aficionados want to attend after the news that Royal Portrush will host Ireland’s national championship at the end of June.

Given the major success of Northern Irish professionals Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke over the past few years, taking a tournament to Royal Portrush is fully justified.

Three major winners in the space of just over a year from a tiny province with a population of just 1.5 million is nothing short of phenomenal. Needless to say, all three have led the campaign to get big-time golf, especially the Open Championship, back to Portrush.

“If you grow up at Portrush, then you know all about the Open Championship played there,” McDowell said last year. “It would be a dream come true to play The Open at Royal Portrush.”

McDowell was delighted with the Irish Open’s new venue. “Fantastic news on the Irish Open 2012 coming to Royal Portrush,” McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, wrote on Twitter.

“Always been a dream of mine to play a top event in my hometown.”

Clarke, who won the 2011 Open Championship, was just as jubilant. “Royal Portrush will be awesome for the Irish Open this year... it’s as good a test as we play anywhere!” he tweeted. “Brilliant news. Big crowds please!!!”

The Open was held over the Portrush links in 1951, when Max Faulkner won. It’s the only time the championship has been held off mainland Britain, but purists had been calling for it to be taken back there long before McDowell, McIlroy and Clarke broke through in recent years as major champions.

If you haven’t played this great links, then you’ve missed out on an exceptional experience. Watching Europe’s top professionals play one of the world’s outstanding links should be a treat, especially considering the courses they play on a weekly basis.

Spain’s Pablo Martin complained last year that he was fed up with turning up every week and finding a golf course that didn’t seem too different from the one he’d played the previous week.

One of the benefits of playing on the European Tour is the chance to visit different countries, experience different cultures, and hopefully play on different courses and in different conditions. That still holds true, to a certain extent. Europe offers better variety than the sameness that afflicts the PGA Tour. However, the variety isn’t as great as it could be.

Consider that some European Tour events are held on courses that wouldn’t look out of place in Ohio, and no wonder Martin is complaining. The Irish Open is a case in point.

When you think of Irish golf, you dream of Ballybunion, Waterville, Portmarnock, Royal County Down and, of course, Royal Portrush. Yet recent Irish Opens have been held on courses that are pretty much American in nature. The Jack Nicklaus-designed Mount Juliet staged the event in the 1990s. The parkland layouts of Druids Glen, Fota Island, Carton House and Killarney have all staged the tournament in recent years. All good courses, true, but surely the Irish Open has to be played on a links, no?

Money is the reason, because it’s just good business sense for the Euro Tour to pull in a course willing to stump up the cash to stage the tournament. Unfortunately, that’s the driving force behind the choice of many tour venues. Why do you think the past three European Ryder Cups have been held at Celtic Manor, The K Club and The Belfry, instead of on any number of classics we have in these isles?

So let’s look forward to a classic tournament on a classic course. It doesn’t happen often enough.

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