Sport Golf

Monday 27 February 2017

Cost-sharing key to Open survival

Dermot Gilleece

THE financial burden of staging the Irish Open without a sponsor could be shared between North and South following the decision to bring this year's tournament to Royal Portrush.

The event clearly places excessive demands on the public purse on either side of the border, but a return to alternate stagings of the tournament, as was the case for more than two decades after the Irish Open was launched in 1927, may now be the way forward.

For that period, until after the 1953 staging at Belvoir Park when the championship was discontinued, it was organised by the GUI whose choice of venues emphasised their status as an all-Ireland body.

And by predicting a "stable" future for the Irish Open, European Tour chief executive George O'Grady has signalled the revival of a proud tournament tradition in Northern Ireland.

Now, the objective must be to ensure that this year's staging at Royal Portrush (June 28-July 1) becomes an ongoing tribute to the achievements of recent Major champions and in particular their associations with this links.

And of course there is also the glorious opportunity of reviving this tradition by returning to the North after the 2013 staging at Carton House.

So destructive were The Troubles that one can easily forget Northern Ireland having had its own tour event in the Gallaher Ulster Open at Shandon Park (1965 to 1970) and at Malone in 1971, its last staging.

Then there was the Hennessy Tournament won four times by Christy O'Connor Snr from 1957 to 1963, and the more modest Blaxnit Tournament, quite apart from regular stagings of the Irish Dunlop and the Irish (native) Championship.

With job creation an obvious priority all over the island, much good can be done through golf tourism. And when images of Royal Portrush are beamed worldwide next June, we can claim with total justification that the viewer is seeing one of the world's truly great courses.

Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke have done their bit by amassing six Major championships.

It can be said that the Republic's government has also played its part. Now, when Northern Ireland minister Arlene Foster talks of a Portrush Irish Open showcasing "our golf tourism to a worldwide audience" she should be aware that this needs to be an ongoing process.

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