Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

The Open: Portrush's welcome to the world

Hurdles will be scaled to seal Northern Ireland's biggest ever sporting event

Peter Unsworth (Chairman of The R&A Championship Committee), Peter Dawson (R&A Chief Executive), Simon Rankin Captain, Royal Portrush Golf Club, First Minister the Rt. Hon. Peter D Robinson MLA, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA, Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister, Arlene Foster with the Open Championship trophy at Royal Portrush Golf Club on June 16, 2014 in Portrush, Northern Ireland
Peter Unsworth (Chairman of The R&A Championship Committee), Peter Dawson (R&A Chief Executive), Simon Rankin Captain, Royal Portrush Golf Club, First Minister the Rt. Hon. Peter D Robinson MLA, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA, Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister, Arlene Foster with the Open Championship trophy at Royal Portrush Golf Club on June 16, 2014 in Portrush, Northern Ireland

Plenty of "badgering" by Ulster's three golfing superstars helped secure Royal Portrush a coveted place on the Open Championship rota.

Double Major winner Rory McIlroy, 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke and 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell took every opportunity to highlight the suitability of Royal Portrush to host the Open Championship for the first time since 1951.

Royal & Ancient Chief Executive Peter Dawson, one of the most powerful men in world golf who travelled to Royal Portrush yesterday to confirm the arrival of the Open, revealed: "I don't like to call it badgering but, yes, I have certainly had plenty of craic with Rory, Darren and Graeme (pictured) in recent years about the Open coming to Royal Portrush."

The Open, one of the world's greatest sporting events, could be played on the north coast as early as 2019, although golf chiefs did admit yesterday that it could be a year or two later given the work that needs to be done to the course and also due to infrastructure upgrades.

"I am absolutely delighted to confirm that we have invited Royal Portrush to again be a venue for the Open Championship," added Dawson, who confirmed that the highly successful Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012 had helped pave the way for biggest tournament of the lot.

"We have every confidence that Royal Portrush will prove to be an excellent venue in every way. We expect there will be huge interest in the Championship.

"There's a rich golf heritage at Royal Portrush with the club having hosted the Championship before, in 1951, when Max Faulkner won. It has also hosted the Senior Open six times, the Irish Open and is currently hosting the Amateur Open.

"I would also pay tribute to the Northern Ireland Executive for their backing.

"The Northern Ireland economy will benefit by around £70million every time the Championship is played here. It will give the area great positive exposure with television pictures beamed around the world.

"The planning authorities and club members have yet to give their permission for the required changes to the course.

"The 18th green is difficult in terms of accommodating a grandstand. There is also space required for a television compound and contractors compound. There will need to be work done in terms of roads.

"2019 would be the earliest the Championship would be played at Royal Portrush – we may have to wait until a year or two later. It's been too long away and we are very excited that it's coming back."

Royal Portrush Captain Simon Rankin is confident the club's 500 members will give their full backing to the Open coming to the course, with an AGM expected later in the summer.

"Our members are delighted that the Open Championship is coming back to Royal Portrush. The members understand that changes will have to be made to the course. The actual work on the course would take six months but it would be two years until the new parts are playable," he said.

And the captain added that no-one should have any fears about proposed changes to the course.

"Any changes will be appropriate and sympathetic. We will take the plans to our members and we will work closely with the R&A to manage this in the most respectful way. We look forward to the work that lies ahead.

"We have worked extremely hard for this and I want to thank the R&A for the invitation to join the Open Championship rota. This is a truly great day for world golf.

"I would also like to thank the Northern Ireland Executive for their backing for what will be the biggest sporting event ever held in Northern Ireland.

"For generations to come, this will bring sporting and economic benefits to the Portrush area and Northern Ireland as a whole

"The Irish Open at Royal Portrush showed the enthusiasm of the Northern Ireland public for top class golf.

"Northern Ireland has, of course, become the home of Major golf champions."

And the Royal Portrush Captain was quick to point out that McIlroy, Clarke and McDowell have very strong connections to the club.

"Rory shot a course record (61) here as a 15-year-old, Darren brought the Claret Jug to the club (after winning the Open in 2011) and Graeme grew up nearby and has played here many times," he explained.

There is still work to be done, but the hurdles are getting smaller. The Open Championship is coming back to Royal Portrush.

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