Royal Portrush returns to Open rota: "2019 is the earliest it can be"

Royal Portrush returns to Open rota: "2019 is the earliest it can be"

Peter Dawson, third from the right, announces the invitation to Royal Portrush to return to the Open rota.

Royal Portrush was officially invited to return to the Open rota at a news conference today but R&A Chief Executive suggested that there is no guarantee it will happen in 2019.

"Much work lies ahead to prepare for the Open’s return with the planned course enhancements and infrastructure developments which will require ratification by the club’s members and by the planning  authorities," he said, referring to the course and infrastructure changes that are required. 

"And so we will no be able to announce a date for the first event until these permissions are in place — 2019 is the earliest it can be, but it may be that we have to wait a year or two longer than that.

"This is a wonderful golf course which will challenge the world’s top golfers. It has  been more than 60 years since the Open was played here and it has been too long and we are very excited about coming back."

The proposed changes to the course must be approved at an Emergency General Meeting of the club's membership, planned for late summer. Once approved by the membership, something that's regarded as a formality with the vast majority believed to be in favour of the changes — work will begin.

The proposal will see the construction of two new holes on the land currently occupied by the fifth and sixth holes in the Valley Course with a new par-five and a par-four being added.  It is expected that it will take two and a half years for the new holes to mature sufficiently.

Possible new routing for the Championship Dunluce links for an Open Championship

While the new holes are almost certainly going to follow on from the current sixth hole as the  seventh and eighth on a new Championship course — with the current 17th and 18th eliminated — they could also be incorporated into the back nine, just before the current par-three 14th, Calamity, as the 14th and 15th on a the proposed "new course."

Mr Dawson opened his remarks by saying: "I suppose this is just about the world’s worst kept secret. On behalf of the R&A, I am absolutely delighted to confirm that we have invited Royal Portrush Golf Club to again become a host venue for the Open Championship.

"We couldn't be more excited about bringing The Open back here to one of the world’s truly great links courses and we have every confidence, that Royal Portrush will prove to be an excellent venue in absolutely every way. Golf enjoys passionate support in Northern Ireland and indeed throughout Ireland.

"And we expect  there will be huge interest in the championship from the many thousands of golf fans here. I would like to thank Royal Portrush Golf Club for its willingness to host the Open. There is a rich golfing heritage here with the club having famously hosted The Open in 1951 when Englishman Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug.

"Since then it has played host to the Irish Open two years ago and the Senior Open on six occasions. Royal Portrush is also hosting the amateur championship for the third time this week. I would also like to pay a special tribute to the Northern Ireland Executive for its support and major enthusiasm for bringing this sporting event to Northern Ireland.

"On each occasion it is played here, The Open will generate an estimated £70 millon for the Northern Ireland economy and will certainly give the game here and the whole region huge exposure as television images are beamed around the world."

No figures were mentioned but the Northern Ireland Executive is believed to be investing up to £10m in bringing the event to Northern Ireland. First Minister Peter Robinson expects the investment to be repaid many times over in terms of tourism income.