Open return for Portrush? Watch Max Faulkner winning again (just in case)

Open return for Portrush? Watch Max Faulkner winning again (just in case)

Darren Clarke's knowing smile at Augusta said it all and yet the R&A has felt moved to issue a tweet and insist it remains 'some distance' from being able to stage the Open Championship in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951.

As PA Sport's Phil Casey reports: "Rumours of the Open returning to Royal Portrush have been circulating for some time, with reports on Sunday claiming a deal had been done for 2019, 68 years after Max Faulkner won the only Open staged outside England and Scotland.

"However, the R&A's response on Twitter labelled such reports as 'Portrush rumours' and a statement released to Press Association Sport read: 'As part of our commitment to examine the feasibility of staging an Open Championship at Portrush, the R&A continues to discuss this at a conceptual level with Royal Portrush Golf Club and the Northern Ireland Executive."

The R&A denied reports last summer that the Open was set to be held at Portrush in 2018 and it appears clear that R&A chief executive Peter Dawson is not convinced about its suitability.

Could Dawson's retirement in 2015 be the key to this new tide of rumours and well-placed sources insisting that it's a "done deal" for 2019?

That the R&A is keen to add Royal Portrush to the rota because the PGA of America is considering the venue for a potential first staging of the US PGA outside the US in 2020 also seems unlikely.

PGA of America president Ted Bishop put that one out there in November last year but later admitted that he'd only seen the course "on the internet" via the club's website.

What is clear is that there will have to be an EGM at the club to approve any Open staging and the members have not even seen what they believe are plans to build two new holes because the 17th and 18th might be used for the tented village.

Some members have expressed concern about the secrecy surrounding the talks between the club's Council and the R&A (and the Northern Ireland Executive) and fact that no plans have been shown to them.

Should the Open go to Portrush, it's likely to be a big success. A quick look at Pathé's archive footage of Max Faulkner's 1951 win shows the same kind of enthusiasm that was evident when the Dunluce Links attracted record crowds of more than 130,00 for the 2012 Irish Open.

The footage of Faulkner's win — it rained, of course — shows 1947 Open champion Fred Daly (a member of the same Rathmore club that gave us Graeme McDowell and Alan Dunbar) doing a club slam/swish that would make Rory McIlroy proud.