Pádraig Harrington has predicted that the Open Championship’s return to Irish shores this week is the first step of tournament organisers the R&A taking golf’s oldest major around the world, ideally with Portmarnock as the launchpad.
The Irishman’s back-to-back victories in 2007-08, followed by major successes for Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke, and Rory McIlory, are seen as the catalyst for the bid to bring the Open back to Royal Portrush this week for the first time since 1951. Harrington believes the R&A’s decision to move away from its traditional rotation of links courses in Scotland and England can provide the impetus for a more global outlook for the Championship, given the organisers are guardians of the game and its laws in every country bar the US and Mexico.
“I think this is the beginning of the Open taking its place as the Open and moving around the world, yes,” Harrington, an R&A ambassador, told RTÉ Radio.
“Where else would be the first place? Yes, Portmarnock would seem the logical first step but in my lifetime it is possible to see it being played in the Netherlands — they have great links golf courses there — or maybe Australia. These are all under the auspices of the R&A, so yes, it could move around the world.
“I haven’t heard it too much behind the scenes but there is no reason (why not). Every bit of golf outside two or three countries is under the auspices of the R&A so there is nothing to rule out the R&A moving the Open around the world.
“I think they would always want to stay on a links golf course but who knows in a hundred years? I don’t believe we are going to see, it is not something that’s going to happen in the next five years but it definitely could happen down the road.”
Harrington reiterated his belief that Portmarnock is the logical first point of expansion for the R&A, particularly given the north Dublin links successfully staged this year’s Amateur Championship. Yet he also recognised the golf club’s current policy of a male-only membership as an obstacle.
“It would be easy to think we are on their doorstep, that we should be first if it does move. Portmarnock is obviously a great championship venue, they obviously have their own issues. But it is definitely a possibility. It would be a great venue, it has the infrastructure and like here (at Royal Portrush) I think people would embrace it, the community would embrace it, we are seeing that with golf, if you want to have a really great event you have to have the buy-in of all the stakeholders, not just the sponsors.”
Harrington, 47, is marvelling at the opportunity to play a major championship on Irish soil, something he had not foreseen during his professional career.
“This was all started by (then R&A committee member) Gavin Caldwell. In 2007, he came to me after I won the Open, ‘Come on, we’ll work behind the scenes to try to get this done’, which is quite remarkable because he is a member of Portmarnock and Royal County Down. I don’t think he’s a member up here. It was always a push to get it to Royal Portrush.
“He gathered the forces behind the scenes for a number of years and obviously then having Graeme, Darren, and Rory start winning, and bringing the Irish Open here in 2012, showed there was no excuse for not having an event here; 2012 was an incredible event, the crowds turned out, the community was behind it, and it proved that it was going to be a success. It’s been proved now. I think it is going straight in as the fifth biggest ticket sale for an Open and it’s pre-sold. It’s an automatic success already.”