The 2019 Open Championship is less than 18 months away. The town of Portrush and the surrounding areas continue to buzz with anticipation at what will be the biggest sporting event in this island’s history.
Hotel, guesthouse, and B&B bookings are approaching capacity and house rentals will cost you an arm and a leg. The prospect of hosting such a major event has also led to a building boom.
Hotels are being developed in the locality to take advantage of the gold rush and, as far away as Belfast, hotel extensions and new builds are also in progress.
House Belfast is just one of several new hotels springing up. With 31 bedrooms and a dedicated whiskey room, it opened in January. The 188-bedroom, four-star AC Hotel Belfast, the first AC Hotel by Marriott in Ireland, will open its doors in April.
Such a development is not solely the result of the Open — Belfast is an increasingly popular tourist destination — but the numbers attending golf’s oldest major speak for themselves.
Only last week the R&A indicated that for the first time in its history, the Open may have to limit the number of tickets sold… to 50,000 a day.
There’s no doubt the town of Portrush, with a population of approximately 7,500, lacks a sizeable high-end accommodation option. The biggest new development planned for the town is the Dunluce Resort.
At a cost of £30m (€34m)
it will certainly hit the luxury end of the scale. It will have 120 rooms with conference facilities, a spa, guest suites, apartments, and villas.
Plans for the US-backed resort were lodged before Christmas. It also has the backing of the R&A, whose executive director, Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, wrote to Causeway Coast and Glens Council to say: “A project of such a scale and quality will strengthen the support network for The Open.”
The location for the hotel is a 10-acre site between the Ballymacrea Road and Dunluce Road, overlooking the Championship golf course and the 4th and 5th holes. It will be close to the Royal Court Hotel, out towards White Rocks. The developers, ARC Investing, claim the resort will create 200 jobs during construction and up to 250 jobs thereafter.
One of the key problems for the people in the town is that the proposed development is completely out of keeping with its surroundings. The artist’s drawing makes it look like an industrial factory, potentially seven-storeys high, and it will loom over the golf course.
There is now a further spanner in the works: Royal Portrush Golf Club wrote a four-page letter to the planning office on February 6 to raise their concerns.
In the letter, the club says that as a major landowner in the area, they have a duty to ensure long-term preservation and enhancement of the surrounding environment. The club also acknowledges the huge support it has received over the years which has, ultimately, led to the club hosting the Open Championship.
In the letter it states: “The club wish to express in clear and unequivocal terms that it supports in principle the development of a major hotel of this nature, however after careful reflection and consultation it wishes to express a number of concerns about aspects of the current proposal.”
These are not idle concerns and they sit alongside numerous objections from businesses and residents within the town. The next development steps have yet to be taken but for the many thousands of visitors who will descend on the region for the Open, it is unlikely that the Dunluce Resort will be built in time.
The news isn’t good either when it comes to other new hotels nearby. The £20m 118-bedroom Merrow Hotel in Portstewart has finally been given the green light, but the four-star facility won’t be completed until 2020.
In Portrush itself, work on the proposed 85-bedroom Andras Hotel (on the site of the Londonderry Hotel) is due to start shortly but this, too, may not be ready in time for July 2019. Overall, that’s 323 bedrooms that probably won’t be available for 2019.
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