R&A chief hints at Royal Portrush return for Open Championship after record-breaking attendance
The R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers has given the strongest indication yet that Royal Portrush will host the Open Championship on a regular basis after its 2019 return.
This week, golf's oldest tournament is back on the north coast for the first time in 68 years and hopes are high that the phenomendal support will help secure regular returns - around every 10 years - in the future.
The 148th Championship will welcome the highest ever attendance outside St Andrews, providing a key indication that the Portrush pilot has been a risk worth taking.
As many as 237,500 fans will pass through the gates over the course of the week, surpassing the 235,000 who attended Royal Birkdale in 2017 and the 237,000 at St Andrews in 2015.
The only Championship to welcome more supporters was at St Andrews in the year 2000, when 239,000 flocked to the home of golf.
A record breaking 61,000 fans have attended the four practice days at Portrush, by far trumping the 52,000 at Hoylake in 2006.
It's little wonder, really, that in his Wednesday morning press conference, Slumbers said that he hopes Portrush will be part of the 10-course Open rota "for years to come".
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"There's been a lot of talk about (taking The Open beyond Britain) this week and a lot of that is due to the great success of bringing it to Royal Portrush for the first time in a long, long time," he said.
"But we have ten courses in the pool that we use for The Open Championship. We think that's ten of the best links courses in the world, and we're very happy with those courses.
"If we think about the past few years, going back to Carnoustie, going back to Hoylake, they've been great successes.
"I think that Hoylake and Portrush are venues which are going to be used and played for The Open Championship for many years to come. We are not looking, at the moment, beyond those ten courses."
The other courses on the rota are, of course, St Andrews, as well as Carnoustie, Royal Birkdale, Royal Troon, Royal Liverpool, Muirfield, Royal Lytham and St Anne's, Royal St George's and Turnberry.
While the Old Course at St Andrews hosts the tournament every five or six years, there's usually around a decade wait for the others on the rota.
Troon, for example, hosted The Open in 2004 and then again in 2016, while 2012 venue Lytham will have to wait until at least 2022 to see the Championship return.
Until this year, there were three Scottish courses and two English courses hosting the event every five years, usually alternating between the two countries.
“This is a huge week not just for The Open but for golf as well," added Slumbers. "We are making history with a record attendance for a Championship staged outside of St Andrews and the levels of excitement among fans this week have been phenomenal.
“In previous years I've said that big time sport needs big time crowds and I think this clearly shows that The Open is going from strength to strength.
"We certainly have the big crowds at Royal Portrush as we stage the biggest sporting event ever to be held in Northern Ireland. The eyes of the sporting world are firmly set on Royal Portrush."
Belfast Telegraph Digital