Thursday 27 June 2019

Open will keep links to North

Dermot Gilleece in Portrush

WITH Pádraig Harrington entering the final day in with a live chance of regaining his crown, it has been revealed that the Irish Open will be returning to Royal Portrush in the near future, though possibly not as early as this weekend's extraordinary fans might wish.

An obvious problem is that the British Amateur Championship is fixed for the Dunluce links in mid-June 2014.

George O'Grady, chief executive of the European Tour, made it clear yesterday the future of the event rests with the governments north and south. Only by being offered "a huge cheque" would he be interested in returning to a title sponsor.

Irish Government support, however, would rule out the possibility of a return to Portmarnock or Royal Dublin as future venues. "Where links venues are concerned, we're hamstrung in the south," he said.

"Nobody would dispute that Portmarnock is among the best links courses on the island. But with government support, it would not be appropriate to play in single-sex golf clubs."

As it happens, the championship is already fixed for Carton House next year. And if a links is to be considered for future, southern stagings beyond that, we could be looking at courses such as County Louth and The Island, given the European Tour's position.

All three Northern Major winners, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, played pivotal roles in bringing the Irish Open to Portrush, but O'Grady singled Clarke out for particular mention. "Darren attended virtually every planning meeting, even down to parking," he said. "His support was quite extraordinary."

As for the tour chief, while careful to keep business options open, he is clearly looking to tourism authorities north and south to secure the future of what has been a problem event in recent years. "I think the Irish Open is a great title," he said. "And I like the Taoiseach's idea that the tournament be used to market Ireland as an entity, not to have south competing with north. As he put it, 'when overseas golfers plan visits here, they think simply of great Irish courses, not where they're located.'"

Reflecting on a remarkable week, O'Grady said: "Of course we want to capitalise on success where local sponsors got a better return than they expected and we had the first sell-out crowd in the history of the European Tour.

But, in an obvious reference to the 2014 British Amateur, he concluded: "Things are not as straightforward as they might seem. Some difficult details will have to be addressed."

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