Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Irish Open: Alliss just loves Portrush

You could spend millions on a new golf course, but legendary commentator Peter Alliss tells Peter Hutcheon that it’s still unlikely you’d get close to the magnificence of Royal Portrush

Nothing Donald Trump can build with his billions in Scotland will stand comparison with Royal Portrush, says veteran BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss.

Alliss popped over to see the preparations for the Irish Open at the famous old links on the north Co Antrim coast whilst making a programme on the game in Ulster earlier this month.

And Alliss, who played in the 1951 Open Championship there, reckons it remains one of the truly great courses in the world.

“It's changed very very little over the years and apart from a few new tees and a little lengthening here and there, it's still much as I remember it from 1951,” he said.

“And I think that's part of its charm.

“It has stood the passing of time quite magnificently and that just shows you the quality of the land it was built on.

“You can't make a great links course if you have poor land. They can make the most of it now with huge budgets and with earth-moving equipment and the like and you can turn a 150-acre flat field into something, but it's not quite the same thing.

“There's this new Donald Trump course out in the wilderness above Aberdeen.

“If the course is as magnificent as they say it will be, it still doesn't guarantee that it is going to make a great championship.”

Alliss has seen it all in his career with the BBC which began shortly after his retirement from professional golf in 1975.

In recent times he has witnessed numerous Tiger Woods victories at the Masters and the Open, Rory McIlroy's disaster on the back nine at Augusta last year and, perhaps most notoriously, Jean Van de Velde's spectacular collapse on the 18th at Carnoustie in the 1999 Open.

His Middle England persona does not always sit comfortably with the modern game and is light years away from the more brash coverage of Sky.

And he is worried that satellite television might soon have a monopoly on coverage of the game.

“I said 15 years ago that it only needed two or three younger members of the R&A to be on the committee and the Open could go to Sky very easily,” he said. “I'm only glad I won't be around to see it.

“Maybe in 10 or 20 years time there won’t be a BBC sports department at all.

“Sky have, what, five sports channels now? Then you have ESPN and others putting out sport.

“The BBC, even if they had a dedicated sports channel, it would still only be a toe in the water, It's a very difficult situation.

“But Sky probably give golf coverage more than anything else and they do it remarkably well.

“Men's, women's, boys, they've got documentaries about the golf and they cover the game wonderfully.”

Alliss reckons believes the era of one player dominating the game, as Tiger Woods did for so long, is over but that Rory McIlroy can certainly vie for the title of being the man to beat.

“People used to say to me when Tiger was winning everything, when he was Gulliver in a land of pygmies, that they were fed up with it,” he said.

“But to me that's wrong, because he played the game so beautifully and he deserved the success that he had.

“I think it is interesting now that it is more open and you have a number of players who can turn up and win on any given week, but it's not the same as when Tiger was obviously the man to beat.

“I don't think what we saw with Rory last year at the Masters would happen now.

“He's got it together with his caddie and he looks a much better all round player. He looks to have a good golfing brain and that will take him a long way.”

Alliss expects Royal Portrush to stage a great Irish Open championship and was delighted to hear the tournament was returning for the first time in over 50 years.

“It's one of the great golf courses in the world, simple as that, and it deserves to have top level competition,” he said.

“I understand why the golfing public in Northern Ireland have been frustrated over the years because it's been so long since an event like this has been brought here.

“You've had the Walker Cup and top amateur events but not the top end professional stuff and maybe part of that has been to do with accommodation problems and access problems and things like that.

“I think Royal Portrush is on a par with Royal Porthcawl in south Wales where they would love to have the Open Championship and with some tweaking it could accommodate it.

“It's the same story here and if the Irish Open is a success, and there's nothing I've seen which would suggest it won't be, then the R&A will be taking a very close look at it,” he added.

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