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Royal Portrush just isn't up to staging Open Championship, says R&A chief Dawson

By Phil Casey

The chances of Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke or Graeme McDowell adding to their major collections on home soil suffered a heavy blow today, with Royal Portrush warned not to "expect anything imminent" on their hopes of staging the Open Championship.

A successful staging of this year's Irish Open at Portrush was expected to boost hopes of the Open returning to the venue for the first time since 1951.

But R&A chief executive Peter Dawson put a dampener on those expectations ahead of tomorrow's first round of the 141st Open at Royal Lytham, revealing a lot of hard work and "a huge amount" of money still needs to be spent.

Dawson admitted the Irish Open, won by Jamie Donaldson, had been a success, but stressed the difference in scale between staging a regular European Tour event and a major championship.

"It's a favourite of mine, wonderful golf course, wonderful challenge," he said.

"And it's great to see how successful the Irish Open was and particularly the enthusiasm from the spectators in that part of the world.

"If you were at the Irish Open and compare it with what we're doing here, we're talking 20,000 grandstand seats, and there I doubt they had 2,000 at the Irish Open.

"You're talking about a tented village here I would estimate 10 or more times the size it was at the Irish Open. And the crowd size at the Irish Open, whilst it was very good, was only as good as perhaps the lowest crowd we expect at an Open venue, ie Turnberry.

"Where would you put the big grandstand complex? The practice ground would need a lot of work at Portrush in my own estimation. And we don't have a finishing hole that would have the grandstands around it. There would be much work to do for an Open to go to Portrush.

"A huge amount of money would need to be spent, in my estimation, to make Royal Portrush a sensible choice. That's not a criticism of Royal Portrush; it's a wonderful golf course, but the commercial aspects of it are quite onerous.

"It's going to take some time to come to a view, and the view may be no. We'll just have to wait and see. It's always been to an extent on our radar and our Championship Committee will, I'm sure, continue to evaluate it. But don't expect anything imminent, that's for sure."

Nine courses - St Andrews, Carnoustie, Muirfield, Troon, Turnberry, Lytham, Birkdale, Hoylake and Sandwich - are currently on the Open rota, and Dawson added: "We don't feel short of Open venues now. We're not rushing to look for more, we don't feel that pressure.

"But what did impress hugely about the Irish Open was the logistics worked well, the traffic flows and all of that. But above all, I thought the enthusiasm of the spectators was something not to be forgotten, and that's a very strong point."

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