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Comment: How The Open legacy can be good news for all of Northern Ireland's golf clubs

 

Lasting mark: The Open’s success should filter down to local golf clubs
Lasting mark: The Open’s success should filter down to local golf clubs
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Having walked around Royal Portrush a cumulative 10 times over the course of Open week, I decided that a trip to the gym was a good idea on Tuesday.

It proved not to be, but that is not the point.

While there I met a friend who had been at the tournament for a few days and, while chatting, he dropped a line that made me think.

"Having been there, I'd pay to play Royal Portrush, it was incredible," he said.

In that one line, he summed up both something great from the week and something that will be a key part of the legacy of The Open.

While it's great that Portrush was showcased as well as it could be to the rest of the world, there's another half to the story that has largely been forgotten due to the grandeur of The Open.

The truth is Royal Portrush never necessarily needed the publicity. It is already world-renowned as one of the best courses not just in Ireland but in world golf, it is set in a stunning location on the north coast and was already an Open venue, albeit 68 years ago. All those things sell it to a worldwide audience and rightly so.

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Now, that's not to say it shouldn't have gotten any additional publicity, because it should have. For the amount of work put into the week by the club, the town of Portrush and Tourism NI, it deserved to be given its chance on the biggest stage and now it deserves to reap the rewards as well.

As a result, the Dunluce links are booked out until October, with the course expected to earn a jaw-dropping £1,000 every 10 minutes. The impact of the incredible success of The Open will be felt for years to come, likely until the Major returns to these shores - whether it be in 2024 or beyond.

Outside of the north coast, however, the impact is slightly less obvious, and probably won't be clear for a while.

That brings us back to what my friend said in the gym, and this is where the conversation must begin.

As someone who does not play golf regularly, that's a big step up for him. To go from the occasional round at the local club to playing one of the hardest golf courses you can find is like going from a kick-about with your mates in the park to having to man-mark Messi in the World Cup final.

For all those with the desire to tackle the Dunluce, however, there have to be results beyond Portrush and the north coast as a whole.

Portstewart and Castlerock, which are excellent links tracks in their own right, will naturally benefit by their locality. Royal County Down, as another world class venue, is considered close enough that it can be roped in as a package deal.

Where there has to be an upturn, however, is in people taking up the game in Northern Ireland on a regular basis rather than just wanting to experience Royal Portrush because it hosted The Open.

Bringing in extra tourism is fantastic, of course, and long may that continue. But on top of that, there must be tangible results to show that The Open has made an impact at home in order to keep things ticking over on the local side.

From 2007 to 2017, membership at golf clubs in Ireland had declined by 20% according to statistics released by the Golfing Union of Ireland. Fewer members means less money.

So while it is fantastic to see the upturn in bookings for Portrush, there needs to be something similar happening around the country as well.

The problem is that Royal Portrush, through no fault of its own, sets an extremely high standard. It is a world class links and is now a venue on the Open rotation - funnily enough, not every club in Northern Ireland can offer that, yet those watching The Open want that experience, only to discover their local club doesn't offer it, again through no fault of their own.

That is where the second half of the legacy will be determined.

In the short-term, there has clearly been a boon as reflected in the surge of bookings from tourists wanting to play Royal Portrush. In the long-term there has to be local growth throughout Northern Ireland, whether that be through more people taking up membership at clubs or simply playing the game when they can.

There are so many great clubs beyond Portrush in Northern Ireland, most of which are crying out for members and offer excellent facilities of their own. Only when they see the benefits of The Open can the legacy be truly assessed.

So if you're thinking about it, head down to your local club - it may not be of the same standard as Royal Portrush but, then again, very few golf clubs in the world, let alone Ireland, are.

Even so, you may just be surprised.

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