Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Irish Open: Stand by for a 2014 return... at Royal County Down

(taken by a friend of mine David McAuley at Royal County Down Golf Club)

So where does the Irish Open go from here?

The immediate future is clear... it will be played same time but in a different place, Carton House, next year.

In the longer term, however, the Irish Open has been brought to a crossroads by its phenomenal success at Royal Portrush.

The 112,280 who flocked to the four days of the tournament marked the first time attendance figures at a European Tour event exceeded 100,000. Including practice days, a whopping 130,785 turned out, more than attended the 2009 Turnberry Open!

The remarkable public response to the first Irish Open played in Northern Ireland since 1953 makes it imperative for this championship to return as soon as possible... in the interests of the tournament and golf tourism.

Importantly, a precedent has been set for the establishment of a rota like that for The Open, whereby the event will visit only top links courses around the island.

With Royal Portrush scheduled to host the British Amateur in June 2014, the Irish Open cannot be played there on the same date.

The Amateur Championship is promoted by the R&A, who own The Open. So staging this prestige event is significant to the club’s aspirations to bring golf’s oldest Major back to their links.

To play the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2014, the tournament would have to move to a less favourable date on the schedule... the French and Scottish Opens are firmly ensconced in the two weeks The Open.

Anyway, given the intense effort Portrush invested in this year’s event, they may be happy to take a well-earned ‘breather’ before welcoming it back.

So a move to another prestige venue, like Royal Co Down, may be on the cards. Either way, the Irish Open must come back across the border in 2014.

Ulster’s Major winners all drew confidence from Portrush. Yet of the three, Graeme McDowell should put the experience to best use in the upcoming Open at Royal Lytham, starting July 15.

With a preponderance of left-to-right shots required at Lytham, McDowell will feel especially comfortable. The Portrush local showed his true form when, at last, he escaped the clutches of the weather to post Sunday’s 66.

A couple of impressive shots added to his repertoire suggest Rory McIlroy is better equipped than ever before to handle Open adversity.

Darren Clarke has all the shots and, his confidence refreshed by Portrush, should make a solid defence of the Claret Jug. Yet McDowell’s the man for Lytham!

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