Buried amidst the mounting pre-tournament hysteria at Royal Lytham this week was news that Northern Ireland’s 61-year wait to host the Open Championship will continue for the forseeable future.
Despite hosting the most successful event, in terms of ticket sales and attendance, in European Tour history earlier this month, Peter Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the R&A, believes Portrush continues to fall well short of the standard required to host a major tournament.
He outlined his reservations at the R&A’s annual press conference on Wednesday.
“It’s a favourite of mine. Wonderful golf course, wonderful challenge. And it’s great to see how successful the Irish Open was and particularly the enthusiasm from the spectators in that part of the world.
“[But] if you were at the Irish Open and compare it with what we’re doing here: we’re talking 20,000 grandstand seats, and I doubt they had 2,000 at the Irish Open. You’re talking about a tented village here I would estimate to be ten or more times the size it was at the Irish Open. And the crowd size at the Irish Open, whilst it was very good, was only as good as perhaps the lowest crowd we expect at an Open venue, i.e. Turnberry.
“Where would you have the 72nd hole? Where would you put the big grandstand complex? The practice ground would need a lot of work at Portrush in my own estimation. And as I say, we don’t have a finishing hole that would have the grandstands around it. So we’re not really – there would be much work to do for an Open to go to Portrush.”
The widespread popularity of the layout and its status as the “spiritual home” of Northern Ireland’s golfing renaissance (both Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke are members) had raised hopes of a return to the Dunluce Links this decade, perhaps as early as 2017.