Open unlikely to visit Ireland

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington will never get the chance to play in the Open in Ireland.

The game's oldest championship might be 147 years old but it has only be played once in Ireland - at Royal Portrush in 1951.

While the peace process has raised hopes that it could make a return north of the border, the Royal and Ancient yesterday shot down any hopes of a return without major investment in infrastructure.

David Hill, Championship Secretary of the R&A said: "Being from Portrush myself, I know every blade of grass on the course and every nook and cranny, so nobody has to tell me what a wonderful links it - or County Down, for that matter - is.

"It is a course that can compare with any on our rota, indeed, with the very best anywhere in the world, but the course itself is by no means the sole criteria when selecting a venue for the championship and Portrush, regrettably, falls some way short of what is required in a number of areas.

"Even though I know the course and surrounding area so well that it wasn't really necessary, I did carry out a detailed study of the possibility a few years ago and the infrastructure, quite frankly, just isn't there, and anyone who knows the course and the area would have to acknowledge that.

"There just isn't, as things stand at the moment, anywhere approaching the space or facilities that would be required. Car parking is an obvious one and corporate requirements and hotel accommodation would be others, but the principal difficulty would be crowd capacity and movement.

"Portrush would only be suitable if the crowd were to be limited to around 15,000 per day and that, bearing in mind Carnoustie was able to take 35,000 per day comfortably, just wouldn't be realistic.

"Moving the crowds around the course would be extremely difficult also. Take the fourth hole, for example: in my view, it would be practically impossible to move the crowd either right or left of that hole as it is set up at the moment. Changes to the course itself would be required to solve the crowd problem and that, obviously, would be a matter for Portrush Golf Club themselves.

"The whole thing would require major, very major, investment in and around the area. Somebody from Ireland would need to talk to us about their ideas and what they would be prepared to invest. We would never rule it out but, with all the investment and work that would be required, it would be some years down the road ... if ever.

"I discussed the matter with Padraig over a glass of champagne on Sunday night and, while he, of course, would dearly love to see the Open in Ireland, he is realistic and appreciates the problems and difficulties that would have to be overcome first."