Royal & Ancient Chief Executive Martin Slumbers insists there is a huge amount of scope for The Open to grow at Royal Portrush and that the 2025 edition could be the biggest tournament of its kind.
Just six years after hosting its first Open since 1951, Royal Portrush will welcome the world’s best players back to the Dunluce Links for its third championship after the R&A confirmed it will host the 153rd Open in four years’ time, from July 13-20.
It is testament to the job done by the club and the local authorities that not only have the R&A opted to bring the tournament back to Northern Ireland as early as possible — the venues up to 2024 had already been assigned — but Royal Portrush will have held the tournament twice since established courses such as Carnoustie, Muirfield and Royal Birkdale hosted their last Open.
The 2019 Open was met with rave reviews from players, organisers, spectators and media alike, who were blown away by the atmosphere, location and challenge the course presented, which were all key factors in it being returned to the venue.
But Slumbers admitted they were actually conservative with the numbers of fans they allowed onto the grounds in 2019, and that they hope they will greatly exceed the 237,500 that flooded in two years ago.
“We held back a bit in 2019 because we wanted to learn,” explained Slumbers.
“We wanted to learn about the crowds. We wanted to learn about how to get round this golf course. We wanted to make sure the spectator experience was brilliant and the player experience was brilliant.
"We needed to see how our patrons and our sponsors reacted to here.
“As importantly, Royal Portrush needed to understand the implications of losing their golf course for quite a large chunk of time. So we learned an awful lot.
“237,500 was the number, and we could have sold more. There was certainly an appetite for it, but we wanted to hold back to make sure that we had the right experience and we understood how all the infrastructure was going to work.
“We keep wanting to push the championship up. We are passionate that The Open is one of the world’s greatest sporting events, and to do that (you need) big time crowds.
“I don’t want to put numbers on it. We’ve got the 150th Open at St Andrews next year, and that will be — based on the current indications — the largest Open ever, and it will be quite interesting to see if that can be beaten here in 2025.”
As for whether this indicates that Royal Portrush is now a fully fledged member of The Open rota, Slumbers was unequivocal in his response.
“It’s firmly on The Open rota. It’s one of the 10 (courses), and it ain’t going anywhere as far as I’m concerned,” he insisted.
One of those happiest to see The Open back at Royal Portrush was, unsurprisingly, Shane Lowry, who won the tournament in 2019 for his first Major triumph.
“It’s great it’s going back quickly. Obviously in my very biased opinion, it’s one of the best Opens I’ve ever played in,” said the Offaly man.
“But no, taking the win out of it and all that, I think anybody you talked to, the American players and the other players that played, they really enjoyed the venue and thought it was one of the great Opens that they played.
“It’s great to be going back there in 2025. I look forward to it. Don’t have to worry about being in it or not. I’ll be there.
“It’s great it’s coming back quickly, and exciting for the people in Portrush and Ireland that we are going back there.”