With the R&A set to formally invite Royal Portrush to become part of The Open rota on Monday, pending approval of the club membership at an EGM, Ireland will be the central of the golfing universe in 2019 and once again a decade after that, as the Dunluce Links returns to the Open family for the first time in 60 years.
The Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open currently occupies that lucrative date just before The Open, but it would make commercial sense for the European Tour and the tourism bodies north and south of the border to look at hosting the Irish Open on a links course the week before the game’s oldest Major is played at Portrush. It’s an idea that certainly appeals to Irish links courses and John Farren, general manager of Ballyliffin Golf Club in Donegal, just a 70-minute drive from Portrush, has already broached the subject with European Tour chief executive, George O’Grady.
“It would add a great deal of prestige to the Irish Open if it was played near Portrush the week before The Open,” Farren said yesterday.
“We are hoping with the Open going to Royal Portrush in 2019, the European Tour might talk to Scotland and see if for the year the Open is at Portrush, they might give their slot to the Irish Open.
“It would make huge commercial sense for the European Tour with all the top players in the world coming to Ireland for The Open. And It would make the Irish Open a huge event that year and boost its attractiveness to sponsors, quite apart from being a perfect opportunity for the players to practice on a links course before getting to Portrush.
“With all the big names of golf guaranteed to be there every eight or nine years, the Irish Open’s prestige and Ireland’s prestige as a tourism destination could only be enhanced.
“And Ballyliffin would certainly be interested in hosting the Irish Open if it is achievable. It would be very easy for the players to base themselves in one spot for a two-week period.”
Ballyliffin boasts two links courses with the Tom Craddock and Pat Ruddy designed Glashedy Links the obvious candidate for an Irish Open, having hosted the European Tour’s North West of Ireland Open in 2002 and the Ladies Irish Open in 1998. The Old Links — a course Nick Faldo returned to enhance, having fallen in love with it when visited the spectacular 36-hole resort — also hosted the European Seniors Tour’s Irish Seniors Open in 2008.
“We’ve spoken to George O’Grady about it and he certainly saw the commercial benefits of having the Irish Open in that slot,” Farren said. “We don’t know where the Irish Open is going to be in 2019 but to me it doesn’t make sense for it to be in Cork or Kerry the week before The Open Championship itself is held just a 70-minute drive away from us.”
With the Irish Open scheduled for two visits to Northern Ireland before 2019 — at Royal County Down in 2015 and Lough Erne Resort in 2017 — the North may insist on an Irish Open in 2019.
The Irish Government and golf-positive Taoiseach Enda Kenny may well take the opportunity to try and persuade the European Tour that Donegal, an area that has suffered more than most during the economic crisis, would be an ideal place to begin the building up for what Darren Clarke likes to call “the biggest and best tournament in the world”.