Reports of the Open returning to Royal Portrush have been circulating for some time, with reports yesterday claiming a deal had been done for 2019, 68 years after Max Faulkner won the only Open staged outside England and Scotland.
However, the R&A’s response on Twitter labelled such reports as “Portrush rumours” and a statement read: “As part of our commitment to examine the feasibility of staging an Open Championship at Portrush, the R&A continues to discuss this at a conceptual level with Royal Portrush Golf Club and the Northern Ireland Executive.
“Discussions have been positive but we are still some distance from being in a position to take the Open to Northern Ireland.”
&R&A chief executive Peter Dawson admitted Royal Portrush is “a fantastic golf course,” but concerns remain over the infrastructure required to stage a Major and Dawson feels the current nine-course British Open rota is “about right”.
The Irish Open drew massive crowds there in 2012 and the likes of Major champions Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell have been lobbying on Portrush’s behalf. It has also been suggested that the R&A would hasten its decision after Portrush emerged as a surprise contender to stage the US PGA Championship.
The PGA of America is studying the impact of holding the event outside the United States, with the earliest possible date in 2020.
It had been thought that Asia would be the most likely venue for the tournament, but PGA of America president Ted Bishop said in November last year that he was interested in Portrush.
“Royal Portrush would be a great first international Major,” Bishop said. “I think given the powerful effect that Irish golfers have on the professional game today, that might be a good place to start.”
Portrush native McDowell, whose brother works at the club, said at the time: “It’s always been a dream of mine to play the Open there but the US PGA would do nicely.
Despite the R&A’s stance, it is understood negotiations with Portrush are very well advanced and the North’s tourism minister Arlene Foster maintained they were willing and able to stage the tournament.&
Asked if the potential for disorder in mid-July — the height of marching season — could be an issue, Foster noted the success of staging the Giro d’Italia cycling race in Northern Ireland over the last three days.
“If they are looking on this week and they are seeing the way the entire community has taken to the Giro d’Italia I think sport transcends a lot of what may be seen as our difficulties,” she said.