R&A chief Peter Dawson yesterday slammed the brakes on a return to The Open rota for Royal Portrush with a blunt: I think the answer is NO.
While home boy Graeme McDowell desperately insisted that the venue’s capacity problems could be overcome, Dawson recited a damning hit-list of potential headaches.
Following last month’s incredible Irish Open sellout, hopes were high that the R&A blazers awould consider bringing the Claret Jug back to the Causeway Coast for the first time since 1951.
But Open supremo Dawson brought Portrush lovers crashing back to earth, insisting the course needed massive investment to make it a “sensible choice” - even for one year.
Dawson rapped: “There would be a considerable added expense on the ground at the golf course in drainage, in facilities for tented villages, electrical cabling, fibre-optic cabling …
“The number of grandstand seats, for example. Are they available? Would they have to be shipped over?”
Reeling off the stumbling blocks, Dawson added: “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.
“There would be much work to do for an Open to go to Portrush.
“Our Championship Committee will, I’m sure, continue to evaluate it. But don’t expect anything imminent, that’s for sure.”
Championship Committee chairman Jim McArthur quickly added that Portrush would not come up for consideration “until 2016” at the earliest - pushing back a theoretical Open in Northern Ireland until 2025.
But Dawson refused to sugar-coat his words and made it clear that it’s highly unlikely that the Open will ever return to Portrush due to the high costs involved.
He said: “A huge amount of money would need to be spent, in my estimation, to make Royal Portrush a sensible choice.
“That’s not a criticism of Royal Portrush; it’s a wonderful golf course. But the commercial aspects of it are quite onerous.
“And obviously The R&A would need to be sorting those things out as well as just simply the logistics of the whole affair.
“It’s going to take some time to come to a view, and the view may be no.”
McDowell was not surprised to read Dawson’s comments but insisted the problems could still be overcome.
G-Mac said: “We know the current shortcomings of Royal Portrush so I sort of expected Peter’s answer, but they are minimal
“We are going to Merion next year for the U.S. Open, and that’s going to be basically an all seater tournament.
“There is not going to be much room around the golf course, so there are ways around it.
“So if they want to go back to Royal Portrush badly enough, they will go back there.
“There is a lot of factors involved and I have a huge amount of respect for Peter Dawson as he’s a fantastic leader in golf.
“I know he will make the correct decision.”
As for a one-off Open at Portrush, Dawson said: “I don’t think there would be any chance that we would invest in a venue for a one off. I just couldn’t imagine that being the case.”
Four-time European tour winner Michael Hoey was disappointed to hear the views of the R&A.
He added: “It’s disappointing news because the Irish Open was such a great success with the 130,000 crowd, but at least the possibility of The Open going back to Portrush one day has not been ruled out completely.”