Royal Portrush to stage Open Championship

The par-3 third hole at Royal Portrush.

Golf’s worst-kept secret has been confirmed: Royal Portrush will stage a future Open Championship.

The R&A made the announcement today in a press conference at Royal Portrush. The course is back on the rota of the game’s oldest major 63 years after Max Faulkner won the first, and so far only, Open Championship held over the links of Portrush.

Northern Ireland was off limits after Faulkner’s win because of the political situation. The sectarian violence, The Troubles, began in the 1960s and made Northern Ireland a no-go area for the R&A.

Thankfully, the Northern Irish Peace process that has made Northern Ireland a far safer place paved the way for the Open Championship’s return.

“The history here has caused some reputational damage over time,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. “Everyone knows that, but we’re very happy that that’s in the past. If we thought there was a security problem here we would not be making this announcement.”

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson agreed. “This is what peace and stability looks like,” Robinson said. “These men wouldn’t have dreamed of coming here 20 years ago. This shows the new Northern Ireland, a confident Northern Ireland in a new era.”

Dawson said 2019 was the earliest the Open Championship could return, but said it might come later because of the work needed to improve the golf course and infrastructure.

“Much work lies ahead to prepare for the Open’s return. There are planned course enhancements and infrastructure developments, which will require ratification by the club’s membership and by the planning authorities. So we will not be able to announce a date until these permissions are in place. 2019 is the earliest it can be, but it maybe that we have to wait a year or two longer than that.

“It’s been over 60 years since the Open was played here and it’s been too long.”

Among the proposed changes is the possibility of two new holes to replace the current 17th and 18th. The 18th green is not conducive to the sort of grandstands needed for a modern Open. There is talk of new holes taking in part of the current championship Dunluce course and adjoining Valley Course.

“Without going into detail, we will be spending several million pounds to bring the course and infrastructure up to where it needs to be to host (an) Open Championship,” Dawson said.

“It’s a long time since 1951. The game has moved on. Like all of the other Open venues, we’ve had to look at the course to ensure that it provides the sort of test that an Open Championship should provide. The course can certainly do that but with some alterations, not just from a playing point of view but the also the whole infrastructure surrounding an Open Championship.”

Although Royal Portrush had staged six British Senior Open Championships, the 2012 Irish Open Championship turned out to be the vital factor in persuading the R&A to return to Northern Ireland.

“The return of the Irish Open here was something of an eye opener,” Dawson admitted.

Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, said: “This is an out-of-this-world announcement for us. There is no bigger golf tournament anywhere else on the planet.”

Graeme McDowell, 2010 U.S. Open Champion, has campaigned alongside Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke to get the Open Championship back to his hometown. He said: “To bring an Open Championship back to Northern Ireland is very special. It speaks volumes about how far the country has come.

“It's going to be a very special thing for Northern Ireland and Ireland in general. It's a result in a lot of gentle ribbing in the direction of Mr. Dawson the last four or five years from myself and McIlroy and Clarke. Nice to see the fruits of our labor, I suppose.”

The R&A estimates the Open Championship will generate around £70 million for the Northern Ireland economy.

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