Portstewart is set to be the biggest Dubai Duty Free Irish Open of all time, but Championship Director Simon Alliss insists that no decision has been taken on where the $7m Rolex Series extravaganza is going in 2018.
While courses like Ballyliffin in Donegal is believed to be amongst the front runners for 2018 and a links venue is more than likely given the desires of the Rory Foundation, he revealed that more than one club is in the mix.
“Dubai Duty Free are committed right up to 2018 and there is an extension to 2020 and sponsoring the Irish Open aligns with their strategy going forward,” Alliss said at Tourism NI’s official launch of the event in Dublin yesterday.
“As regards 2018 and beyond, we are looking ahead and plenty of clubs are in the mix but we have nothing to give away yet.
"There are a few people waiting but there's nothing tangible."
Ballyliffin is more than keen to play host next year but Alliss would not give an unequivocal guarantee that the Irish Open would take place on a links course in 2018.
"I can't definitively say it is on a links course," he said. "The strategy is in line with that of the Rory Foundation, which is to take the Irish Open to links courses. I would imagine that it is more than likely."
As for JP McManus' Adare Manor and the Limerick businessman's desire to host the 2026 Ryder Cup, Alliss said he was not party to any Irish Open ambitions.
“I don't know," he said. "I know there are lots of people talking about it and that JP has done an incredible renovation project, but I have not been down to see it myself.
"They are not on our radar but that doesn't mean they are not on someone else's radar. We are really in the early days of what we are going to do for '18. There are a few venues who have expressed an interest, but it wouldn't be fair to comment on who is in the mix.
"At the moment we have a links strategy, and that's what we are focussing on at the minute.
"There are plenty of good links courses within the island of Ireland that could host it."
Links venues such as County Louth, County Sligo, Ballybunion and Doonbeg would be obvious candidates for future Irish Open while a return to The K Club cannot be ruled out in the short term given the success of the 2015 staging.
The improvements made to Mount Juliet and the obvious attractions of Killeen Castle make them two potential parkland venues but with talk in Scotland of Loch Lomond returning to the fray for the Scottish Open, the hand of the Irish Open would be strengthened by sticking with a links policy that will take it to a seaside course for the fourth time in seven years next summer.
Alliss is an Irish Open veteran and he expects that the July 6-9 event, his first as Championship Director, will be a 100,000 sell-out.
“I’ve done five Irish Opens and compared to ones I have been involved in, this is a whole new ball game," said the 42-year old Englishman, a son of the BBC's legendary voice of golf, Peter Alliss.
“Since we came north for Royal Portrush in 2012 we’ve seen a huge appetite for growth. And with the Rolex Series and the $7m prize fund, not to mention Rory McIlroy hosting for the Rory Foundation, it has just taken it to a whole new level.
“There is a much bigger team involved — a bigger marketing team, a bigger team for ticketing. There is a new media set up. It’s just a whole new team rolling out what is a phenomenal product.
“We’re expecting to sell out and have over 100,000 there from the Pro-Am on Wednesday to the final day on Sunday.”
So far the only headline stars that have been confirmed are McIlroy, Justin Rose, Pádraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.
More names will be released soon with one or two US Ryder Cup players and Spanish superstar Jon Rahm expected to be among them.