The Irish Open could be about to make a shock return to Royal Portrush this summer - 12 months earlier than planned.
According to two sources connected with the event, the European Tour is believed to be preparing to make an announcement later this week after confirming before Christmas that Irish Open would not be returning to Killarney for a third successive staging.
Tour officials appeared to make it plain late last season that a return to the Dublin area was preferrable for the Irish Open as it would make it easier for them to secure a title sponsor.
Carton House in Co Kildare was considered by many to be the front runner to play host to US Open champion Rory McIlroy and Co for the first time since 2006 though tour officials insisted shortly before Christmas that nothing had been decided regarding the venue and there were many other courses interested in hosting.
However, with McIlroy and Portrush residents Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell all now major winners, it is believed that the tour and the Northern Ireland government are keen to ride that momentum and bring forward plans to take the Irish Open back to Ulster for the first time since 1953.
Royal Portrush wants to host the Open Championship itself and while that appears unlikely in the short term due to political and logistical reasons, the Irish Open is considered the logical “test” event for staging a major.
However, while it was believed that the funds were not in place to host the Irish Open in the North until 2013, Royal Portrush is again being mentioned a potential venue from June 28 to July 1 this year.
A spokesman for tournament backers Failte Ireland insisted last month that decision on the venue was out of their hands and would be made by the European Tour.
McIlroy and McDowell have let it be known that while they enjoyed the atmosphere at Killarney, they were not huge fans of the golf course.
Portrush last staged the Irish Open in 1947 when Harry Bradshaw triumphed on the famous Dunluce Links. The event was also held there in 1936 and 1930.
The European Tour did not take long to confirm the news. At 0615 GMT on Thursday, it issued a media advisory:
The European Tour would like to invite Media to attend an Irish Open announcement and press conference at Royal Portrush Golf Club on Friday January 6, 2012.
The top table will feature George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour; Minister Arlene Foster, MLA Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment; Redmond O’Donoghue, Chairman of Failté Ireland, and Darren Clarke, The 2011 Open Champion.
When: Friday January 6 at 2.00pm, with lunch available from 1.00pm
Where: Royal Portrush Golf Club, Dunluce Road, Portrush, County Antrim
Later in the day, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell took to twitter to confirm the news.
“Royal Portrush will be awesome for the Irish Open. It’s as good a test as we play anywhere. Brilliant news — big crowds, please.”
McDowell also tweeted his delight:
“Fantastic news on the Irish Open 2012 coming to Royal Portrush. Always been a dream of mine to play a top event in my home town.”