Northern Ireland touted for Women's Open

By Brian Keogh

Superstars Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie could have a Major date in Northern Ireland.

Links gems Royal Portrush and Royal County Down are on the hit-list of possible future venues for the Women's British Open.

New sponsors Ricoh will take the event to St Andrews from 2-5 August with Sunningdale, Royal Lytham and Royal Birkdale taking over in 2008 and 2009.

But Alistair McKay-Forbes, Tournament Chairman for the Women's British Open, is determined to go to Northern Ireland's most famous links venues.

Vice-president of golf for IMG, who run Women's Open with the Ladies Golf Union, McKay-Forbes said: "Northern Ireland absolutely is a possibility at some time in the future.

"We have had talks with the North Ireland Events Company but not with either Royal Portrush or Royal County Down.

"But we had run events at both those clubs in the past (Senior British Open) and we know them well. One of those two venues would be absolutely amazing."

Japanse electronics company Ricoh took over from long time sponsors Weetabix this week in a deal that is set to run for at least three years.

The sponsors will have a massive say in where the event is played in the future but former Open Championship venue Royal Portrush is high on the list of pretenders.

McKay-Forbes added: "We have to remember that this is a commercial event. It is one of the Majors but it is tied in with a commercial sponsor.

"We've had a wonderfully successful 20 years with Weetabix, who have been terrific supporters and allowed the event to grow.

"But we have also had one eye on where our market is and where they want to go. And the same will apply with Ricoh.

"The reason we went to Woburn for 17 years was because it was close to Weetabix's base and we are now looking to go to Open venues.

"But we are also looking to expand the rota with St Andrews this year and we hope it stays on the rota in the future."

The Open Championship was played at Portrush in 1951, the only time it has ever been held away from mainland Britain.

The Antrim venue hosted the Senior British Open from 1995 to 1999 before it moved to Royal County Down from 2000 to 2002.

Royal County Down, which will host this year's Walker Cup from September 8-9, has hosted the British Ladies Amateur eight times.