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Irish Open in 2021 return to Portstewart

 

Driving on: Northern Ireland’s Jonny Caldwellall
Driving on: Northern Ireland’s Jonny Caldwellall
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

The Irish Open will be back at Portstewart Golf Club in 2021.

The European Tour event was last played at the north coast club in 2017 and, such was its success, the organisers were keen for a swift return.

Members welcomed the news at the club's AGM on Thursday evening after being told that an agreement had been reached with the Tour last week.

The European Tour is expected to formally announce the decision early next week.

While the event is moving from its mid-summer spot on the European Tour calendar when it visits Mount Juliet in 2020, shifted instead to a May date, it is expected to return to July a year later.

If that is the case, the Irish Open will be played at Portstewart from July 1 to July 4 in 2021, teeing off the links swing with the Scottish Open and the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews following.

The 2021 Irish Open could well be given a further boost should north coast favourite Graeme McDowell be confirmed as tournament host. The likes of Rory McIlroy, 2017 Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm, who won the event the last time it visited Portstewart, will all be expected to tee it up.

The Tour's top stars are understood to have been impressed with the course on their first visit in 2017, with Rahm becoming a particularly cherished ambassador and given honorary membership last year.

"I always say Portstewart, the front nine is arguably the most beautiful front nine I've ever played, and I can honestly say of all the golf courses I've played in the world, this is probably one of the best," he has said.

The Irish Open's swift return is certainly more good news for golf on the north coast, which has been booming since the tournament returned to Northern Ireland for the first time in 59 years back in 2012.

That year's tournament at Royal Portrush broke European Tour attendance records with 112,280 fans pouring through the gates.

The 2017 Irish Open at Portstewart was a similar success, the 79,856 attendance figure bigger than the previous year at the K Club, despite home favourites McIlroy and McDowell both missing the cut.

It's a venue that would appeal to Clandeboye's Jonathan Caldwell, who made his first European Tour cut for 10 years in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.

Despite battling 40c temperatures, Caldwell (35) - who regained his Tour card earlier this month following a long absence - shot a three-under 69, the only bogey-free round of the day, to share 14th on one under par.

"I didn't do anything fantastically well, just kept it in play and missed it in the correct places," said Caldwell, eight behind Pablo Larrazabal. "But my putting has been good. I've been holing out my three, four and five-footers which is key with the course only getting firmer."

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