FOR the first time in 59 years the Irish Open will head north as Royal Portrush prepares to host the European Tour event in June.
Since the turn of the century the Irish Open has visited Ballybunion, Fota Island, Portmarnock, Co Louth, Carton House, Adare Manor and, for the last two years, Killarney. It will revisit Portrush for the fourth time, most recently in 1947.
With three Major champions in the last two seasons – Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell – there has been an increasing call for the Open Championship to return to Northern Ireland and this could be a significant first step. Portrush has staged one Open, back in 1951.
How did it come about?
On December 23, Irish prime minister Enda Kenny spoke to European Tour chief executive George O'Grady to tell him of the Republic’s support for the proposal.
Who will back the move?
Previously Failte Ireland have propped up the Irish Open but this will be the first time they have put substantial money into an event staged in the North. Otherwise the Northern Ireland Assembly will provide the majority of the funding.
With Castle Stuart again hosting the Scottish Open the week before the Open it will give players two possible links outings ahead of the championship.
Who will play?
This is a world-class, out-and-out links and the event will be played three weeks before the Open and two weeks after the US Open. At least three recent Major champions will be there and they should be in good company. With Castle Stuart again hosting the Scottish Open the week before the Open it will give players two possible links outings ahead of the championship.
What will they hope to prove?
That they can handle the traffic for 20,000 or so spectators – there is already a rail link with Belfast – and that the course can do likewise.
Last year 87,000 attended at Killarney and with the current Open champion and Co drumming up support that figure could well rise.
Is it a long-term move?
No, the Irish Open will head back to Carton House, almost certainly the Montgomerie course, in 2013.
What do the R&A say?
Chief executive Peter Dawson has visited to inspect the course and infrastructure. His words were, at best, cautionary.
He told Scotland on Sunday: “It’s a great golf course but it hasn’t had the ‘treatment’ that other Open courses have had and some of that would be required. One or two holes need some changes. And there are layout issues. It’s not obvious where the practice ground would go, for example. Or where the tented village could be sited.
“What was heartening was to see the standard of the roads and the number of places to stay. The biggest question, of course, is the commercial aspect of going.
“As for the political situation every July, we would be guided by the authorities. We always take risk assessments and look at threat levels through the police.”