Open chatter likely to increase as Portmarnock awarded 2024 Women's Amateur Championship
While it's officially a stand-alone event, talk that Portmarnock Golf Club could potentially stage The Open Championship will only heighten after the R&A announced the north Dublin links will host the 121st Women's Amateur Championship in 2024.
The Championship was due to be played at Royal Birkdale but will now be contested over the historic Irish links due to course development work being planned at the Southport venue, which last hosted The Open in 2017 and appears to be preparing the course for a future staging.
It will mark the second time Portmarnock has hosted the Women's Amateur Championship, having previously held it in 1931.
It also staged The Amateur Championship in 1949 and 2019, the Walker Cup in 1991 and the international matches for the St Andrews and Jacques Leglise trophies in 2012.
While R&A CEO Martin Slumbers appeared to pour cold water on a Portmarnock staging of The Open last July, the club elected the first women members in its 128-year history last December when nine women became full voting members.
Portmarnock voted in 2021 to change its constitution and allow women to join with 83.4pc of members in favour.
As it now has women members, the club is eligible to host R&A events.
Officials from the R&A visited the club twice last year, and it's understood there have been talks about potentially staging the AIG Women's Open there as a precursor to potentially becoming the first club outside the UK to host The Open.
Speaking before Portmarnock admitted women members, Pádraig Harrington said at Portrush in 2019 that Portmarnock was the "first logical step" for an Open outside the UK.
“It would be easy to think we are on their doorstep, that we should be first if it does move," he said. "Portmarnock is obviously a great championship venue, they obviously have their own issues. But it is definitely a possibility. It would be a great venue, it has the infrastructure and like here (at Royal Portrush) I think people would embrace it, the community would embrace it, we are seeing that with golf if you want to have a really great event, you have to have the buy-in of all the stakeholders, not just the sponsors.”
There has been much speculation on that matter locally. However, the R&A's Chief Executive appeared lukewarm about that possibility when asked about it during The 150th Open at St Andrews last year.
"We are always looking at the pool of courses that we use," Mr Slumbers said. "I am happy with the courses we've got at the moment.
"We will certainly be looking to bring more of our amateur events into the island (of Ireland).
"Portrush gave us a great platform, and we had the Amateur Portmarnock (in 2019), which was fantastic, and we will keep building up all the time."
The R&A has announced its the next three venues for The Open, with Royal Liverpool this year and Royal Troon (2024) set to host before the Championship returns to Royal Portrush in 2025.
The R&A looked closely at the Portmarnock links in the build-up to the Amateur Championship three years ago, but the difficulty of access remains a sticking point when it comes to The Open.
Many believe that with Royal Portrush a major cash cow for the R&A, another Irish venue is unnecessary.
However, the marketing potential of an Open in a major European capital such as Dublin is huge, especially given the status of Irish golf with Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry as well as Fred Daly, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy all winning the Claret Jug.
"We looked very closely when we staged the Amateur and it was a terrific golf course and it was a terrific staging with great support.
"But it's a pity it's on an island.
"It's quite difficult infrastructure-wise. It's a great golf course and we would love to go there more often. But are we considering it for The Open? No, not at this time."
The Irish Independent understands the staging of the Women's Amateur from 24-29 June 2024 is a one-off event with the club stepping up to help the R&A after Royal Birkdale decided it would be too difficult to make the course changes and host the event.
Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said: "Portmarnock has a rich history of staging world-class championship golf and we look forward to returning to the iconic links next year to stage the Women's Amateur.
"It became clear that the course work being planned for Royal Birkdale could impact on the Championship next year and so we have moved quickly to find an alternative venue.
"It remains very much our intention to stage the championship at Royal Birkdale in the near future and we are grateful to the members and staff of Portmarnock for agreeing to assist us at short notice."
Niall Goulding, Captain of Portmarnock Golf Club, said: "This is a significant honour for our club and is a reflection of the esteem in which our club and, in particular, our links are held.
"I have no doubt but that our experience of hosting the 2019 Amateur Championship will stand us in good stead as we embark on this exciting journey culminating in the delivery of an outstanding Women's Amateur Championship in 2024, which will, I have little doubt, attract record numbers of knowledgeable and enthusiastic spectators."
In 2019, thousands of local fans lined the fairways of Portmarnock to see Irishman James Sugrue defeat Euan Walker by two holes to win the 36-hole final of The Amateur Championship.
The Dublin venue was the stage for the first ever playing of the Irish Open in 1927 and has hosted the event on 18 occasions.
In 1960, American duo Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer sealed a win in the Canada Cup held there, while it was also a venue for the Dunlop Masters on two occasions in 1959 and 1965.
With The Open going to Royal Portrush in 2019, Harrington believes a precedent was set.
“This was all started by (then R&A committee member) Gavin Caldwell. In 2007, he came to me after I won the Open, ‘Come on, we’ll work behind the scenes to try to get this done’, which is quite remarkable because he is a member of Portmarnock and Royal County Down," Harrington said. "I don’t think he’s a member up here. It was always a push to get it to Royal Portrush.
“He gathered the forces behind the scenes for a number of years and obviously then having Graeme, Darren, and Rory start winning, and bringing the Irish Open here in 2012, showed there was no excuse for not having an event here; 2012 was an incredible event, the crowds turned out, the community was behind it, and it proved that it was going to be a success. It’s been proved now. I think it is going straight in as the fifth biggest ticket sale for an Open and it’s pre-sold. It’s an automatic success already.”
Should Portmarnock eventually get the nod – Harrington (51) would be exempt as a past champion until he is 60 – one suspects new records would be set.
Both R&A Amateur Championships will be played in the Republic of Ireland in 2024, with Ballyliffin in Co Donegal to host the men’s Amateur Championship that summer.
The Old Links and the Glashedy Course will host the strokeplay qualifying before the action turns to the Glashedy for the matchplay.