Royal Portrush looks to bright future as regular Open host venue
Royal Portrush golf club is undergoing an 18-month transformation that will pay off for decades as the Open Championship is set to make at least three visits to the famed Northern Ireland links.
Confirmation of 2019 as the return of the Open to Portrush for the first time since 1951 is expected by the end of the summer.
But the R&A's underwriting of the course and infrastructure overhaul which is likely to cost between stg£5-stg£7 million signals that the custodians of the game on this side of the Atlantic are in for the long haul.
That would be great news for Portrush and the neighbouring communities, and for golf on the island of Ireland.
The estimated financial benefit of staging the Open is stg£70 million.
A successful staging in 2019 would confirm Royal Portrush on the rota at intervals of eight to 10 years, thus guaranteeing regular multi-millions of revenue.
The club captain, Sir Richard McLaughlin and John Bamber, chairman of the Royal Portrush Tournament Committee, are confident the venue can be ready to host the world's best golfers in 2019.
"We hope to have a long term legacy of an even better golf course and that in turn will secure Royal Portrush in the world of golf for the next 100 years," said the captain.
Secretary-Manager Wilma Erskine spoke yesterday about the prospects for a long term Open link for Portrush.
"The idea is that there's a lot of money being spent on infrastructure, like fibre optics and course changes.
"The R&A feel they want to include us on the Open for at least three times which is all very good for Ireland."
Further good news for members and visitors is that the course overhaul, under the direction of Martin Ebert of Mackenzie-Ebert, will have a minimal effect on members and visitors, particularly on the primary layout, the Dunluce course.
"Work started on Monday, the 13th of July. We would anticipate about 18 months from start to finish.
"We're trying to do it very subtly and without causing major disruption, so that we can still have golf," said Wilma Erskine.
Holes 17 and 18 on the Dunluce links will be removed to create space for the huge tented village that is a feature of any British Open.
The ultimate championship course will start at the present first on the Dunluce and finish on that present 16th, with two new holes on the Valley being incorporated into the layout to make 18 top quality holes fit to stage an Open.
Northern Ireland's Major winners Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell (left) and Darren Clarke and the backing of the Northern Executive and Tourism NI were key factors in Royal Portrush staging a hugely successful Irish Open in 2012.
Further success by McIlroy increased the Ulster golfing profile and in 2014, the R&A said they would add Royal Portrush to the Open rota.
This year the Irish Open was played at Royal County Down, and Lough Erne is booked in for 2017.
Meanwhile, Michael Hoey is the only Irish competitor in the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play which starts at Murcar Links GC in Aberdeen today. A field of 64 starters compete in the straight knock-out event.
Kevin Phelan, Peter Lawrie, Ruaidhri McGee, and Simon Thornton compete in the Madeira Islands Open on the Santo da Serra course.
The tournament was abandoned in March due to heavy rain.
In America, Justin Rose defends the Quicken Loans National title he won last year at the Robert Trent Jones GC in Gainesville, Virginia. No Irish are playing.
Paul Lawrie Matchplay, Live, Sky Sports 4, 12.30
Quicken Loans National, Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.30