Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Irish Open: Portrush passes its biggest test

FLASHBACK TO 2012: Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy plays on the 17th during day four of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club, Portrush

The Irish Open will be back in Northern Ireland probably sooner rather than later after the success of Royal Portrush.

The European Tour has been blown away by the response of the Ulster public to the tournament with over 130,000 people attending over the four days.

And the Tour's James Finnigan said that they would definitely be back again.

“There is no doubt that the European Tour would want to return to Northern Ireland — we'd be foolish if we didn't want to return,” he said.

“Nothing has been decided yet and we will decide after meeting with our government partners. I had the First Minister Peter Robinson here, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness here, Tourism Minister Arlene Foster and during their visits they have indicated that they want the European Tour to return.

“For our part we would have no absolutely problem returning to Northern Ireland.”

From Royal Portrush's point of view virtually nothing went wrong all week and even the damp weather had its plus points.

“We have had to deal with some difficult conditions which is some ways has enhanced the whole experience,” said the club's tournament director John Bamber.

“We might have been questioned if it had been played over four perfect sunny days about how we would have coped in the rain.

“As far as we are concerned having had virtually four seasons through this event we have been able to conduct it as well as we possible could and everyone has had a smile on their face.”

If the Irish Open does return soon, then Royal Portrush has set a high benchmark as a venue and would easily be the frontrunner to stage it next time around.

“There are other venues in Northern Ireland which could try to make a claim for the event, but I believe that if it isn't broken then don't try to fix it,” Mr Finnigan said.

“This is one of the world's very finest golf courses and I think this beautiful north Antrim coast adds an extra allure to the event.

“The public and the players have responded to coming here and indeed even in terms of media we were heavily over-subscribed.”

The figures alone make incredible reading for the European Tour and for that reason alone there is a compelling case for returning.

The attendance for the Pro-Am on Wednesday exceeded that for the final day's play in the final event of last year's Race to Dubai event in Dubai.

Total attendance figures over the four days approached that of some recent Open Championships, which will be welcome news to the R&A who have paid more than a couple of visits to Royal Portrush over the past six months.

The course, lengthened to some 7,200 yards in recent years, did stand up to the modern professional player and only on the last day with light winds and some fairly straightforward pin positions, was scoring low.

The winning total of 18 under par was also due to some superb player by Jamie Donaldson (below) who only missed a couple of fairways in that final round on his way to victory.

“There haven't been any glitches in staging the Irish Open, but that's only because of the meticulous planning that went into it beforehand,” said Finnigan.

“All the plans that were put in place worked just as we would have liked them to and there was a great deal of work behind the scenes to ensure it did go as well as possible.

“But what we have proved is that Northern Ireland can take major events, but only because we haven't left anything to chance.”

As for Royal Portrush, by the end of this week all the tents and marquees will be a fading memory and it won't be long before any trace of the Irish Open will have completely disappeared.

“There's no better country in the world for growing grass than Ireland,” said Bamber.

“I would expect by the end of September you would not even know that we had hosted an Irish Open.

“That's very different to the experience of the K Club and Celtic Manor after their Ryder Cups because of the parkland nature of their courses.”

As for bringing the Open Championship back to Royal Portrush, last week certainly cannot have harmed the cause.

“No-one needs to get too far ahead of themselves,” said Bamber.

“We wanted to host a European Tour event to see how the modern day professional would actually play the course.

“They could play it as a par 70 or par 71 but the R&A have always said that they would have a look at it.

“And I am sure they have been watching their television sets this last four or five days and they will have seen how it worked so we will wait and see.

“The R&A are the custodians of golf and they will make their own assessment.”

Latest Sport News

Stats Centre