Irish Open 'success' key to Portrush's Major coup
IRELAND'S glittering coterie of Major winners campaigned hard for the return of the British Open to Royal Portrush, but the plain golfers of this island, north and south, also played a decisive role in the decision to stage golf's oldest championship in Co Antrim.
Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, light-heartedly insisted that "badgering" from the stars "did not have any great influence on the process.
"I think their performance on the golf course and the staging of the Irish Open here (at Portrush in 2012) was something of an eye-opener in terms of the strength of the fan base for golf in Northern Ireland and in Ireland altogether," Dawson added.
Yet he conceded the key factors were "the evident success of the Irish Open" and "the day here with the architect Martin Ebert that we finally thought 'this is how we can do this'."
So 130,000 golf fans who broke European Tour attendance records by packing the Dunluce Links 24 months ago can take a bow for their role in bringing in an event that will boost the local economy by an estimated £70m.
Those attendance figures are likely to be dwarfed when the British Open does return to Portrush for the first time since Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug in 1951 – though there's no point in looking for tickets as the R&A are as yet unable to confirm when the championship will take place on these shores.
The next available date is 2019 but as Dawson explained: "Much work lies ahead... with the planned course enhancements and infrastructure developments which will require ratification by the club's members and the planning authorities.
"And so, we will not be able to announce a date for the first event until these permissions are in place – 2019 is the earliest it can be but it may be that we have to wait a year or two longer than that."
Golf course architect Ebert has made a few proposals for consideration by club members. With the present 17th and 18th holes to be used to accommodate the Open Village, the current 16th will be the finishing hole for the 7,300-yard, par-71 British Open course at Portrush.