Friday 24 November 2017

If Merion can handle a Major, Royal Portrush deserves shot at British Open

Golf fans walk along the 16th fairway as rain falls at Merion Country Club
Golf fans walk along the 16th fairway as rain falls at Merion Country Club

Karl MacGinty

IF Merion can host the US Open this week on the squeaky-tight confines of its 127-acre East Course, there's no reason why Royal Portrush cannot stage the British Open on a property almost twice as large.

It has taken years of intensive effort behind the scenes to bring Major championship golf back to a historic venue which former USGA executive director David Fay admitted was in "quasi-crummy" condition and "claustrophobic" when America's premier event last visited in 1981.

In the decades since, the US Open has grown into a behemoth.

Instead of 13 small corporate tents pitched alongside the practice range in 1981, for example, there are 200 now, with 80-plus attendant trailers and dozens of electrical generators.

Back in 2008, USGA officials began going door-to-door, wooing owners of gigantic homes bordering Merion to allow their front and side gardens to be used for hospitality and other facilities, while 20 acres have been rented from a local college.

In a leap of faith, the golf club bought a five-acre plot adjoining the sixth hole to boost their case, while a group of members then invested in another two acres.

CAPACITY

Among the biggest logistical undertakings is a bridge built over a nearby electrified commuter line to help admit the expected 25,500 spectators per day.

This capacity pales alongside the 40,000 per day expected at Pinehurst next year or the record 230,000 over six days of the 2000 British Open at St Andrews and Hoylake in 2006.

However, the R&A absorbed a drop to 123,000 to stage the British Open at remote Turnberry in 2009. Impressively, Portrush accommodated 130,785 in comfort at last summer's Irish Open.

Royal Portrush has been carefully considered, say R&A officials, who effectively advise (albeit more politely) Irish fans not to hold their breath.

Moving the British Open across the North Channel would be a massive undertaking but the USGA were prepared to take the strain and a little financial pain this week in the name of history.

As Merion proves, where there's a will, there's a way, especially if you have powerful voices to lobby your cause.

Irish Independent

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