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Golf chief wished he'd axed Open in Northern Ireland over Brexit woe

Then First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with Darren Clarke and Royal and Ancient’s Martin Slumbers and Peter Unsworth at the announcement in October 2015 that The Open is to be held at Royal Portrush in 2019
Then First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with Darren Clarke and Royal and Ancient’s Martin Slumbers and Peter Unsworth at the announcement in October 2015 that The Open is to be held at Royal Portrush in 2019
The Open is to be held at Royal Portrush in 2019

By Phil Casey

The head of British golf's governing body has admitted he would not have wanted Royal Portrush to host this year's Open Championship while facing the possibility of a hard Brexit.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers admitted he will be "quite pleased when it's over" after revealing the organisational nightmare being caused by Brexit.

Portrush will stage the Open for the first time since 1951 from July 18-21 and tickets for the championship days have already sold out.

However, that decision was announced in October 2015, eight months before the referendum to leave the European Union, and the continuing uncertainty surrounding Brexit - and in particular the backstop to retain an open border on the island of Ireland - is causing headaches for golf's governing body. "Like every business, and I think about the Open as such, the lack of certainty about the rules, the law in which we are operating under post-March 29 has caused us significant concern," Slumbers said.

"In hindsight would I be wanting to do Portrush in the year that we would be potentially leaving the European Union without a deal? No.

"We as a management team have spent a lot of time looking at contingencies and what we need to do. The future of the border is the number one concern. We have over 2000 containers, some from as far afield as the Middle East, to get across the Irish Sea and we start building on April 2.

"We have engagement with ministers and Parliament but the concern is all around certainty. If you know the rules you're playing by then you can play, you optimise what you've got.

"The problem is we don't know whether to reschedule to bring all our containers in through Dublin, whether to move them through Belfast, whether to ship them out of the UK now.

"It doesn't threaten the staging, we will make it happen. It's just more complex than we anticipated. For the insiders it's a bit harder but for everyone outside it won't impact at all, they won't notice.

"We are fully sold out for the championship days and 70% of the spectators are Irish. I think it will be very noisy and pretty exciting, especially if a few Irish players start to really perform."

Brexit is not the only cause for concern for the championship organisers, with Portrush having built two new holes to accommodate the tented village on what used to be the 17th and 18th on the Dunluce links.

"Someone said to me when I was out for the Latin American amateur championship 'You must be looking forward to Portrush' and I said 'Well actually I'll be quite pleased when it's over'," Slumbers added.

"We've never done an Open where we have to get all our stuff across the sea, we've never done an Open in Portrush, but the biggest thing is we've got a golf course that off the Open tees nobody has played with a card in their hand.

"So course set up, which is at the end of the day my number one concern and responsibility, is with a complete blank canvas.

"We'll be there a lot on the golf course working out how we think they're going to play it and we've had a few Tour caddies there helping talk through how they think their players will play."

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