The Open Championship is set to return to Northern Ireland for the first time in over 60 years and only the second time in its more than 150-year history.
Royal Portrush has been invited to stage The Open by The R&A and the County Antrim club’s members will now be asked to ratify the proposal to enable preparations to begin for what is expected to be the largest sporting event ever to be held in Northern Ireland.
Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A, said: “Much work lies ahead to prepare for the Open’s return. There are planned course enhancements – and we’ve been very much helped by Martin Ebert of MacKenzie and Ebert golf course architects in this – and infrastructure development in terms of television compounds, contractors’ compounds, road systems and so on.
“These will require ratification by the club’s members and by the planning authorities, and so we will not 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.”
First Minister the Rt. Hon. Peter D Robinson MLA, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA and Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster joined Simon Rankin, Captain of Royal Portrush Golf Club, Peter Unsworth, Chairman of The R&A’s Championship Committee, and Peter Dawson, in making the announcement at Royal Portrush yesterday (16th June).
The Open is golf’s oldest and most international Major Championship. It has a broadcast reach of over 500 million households around the world and a record 4,468 hours of television coverage of The Open Championship at Muirfield was monitored in 2013. Based on independent research The Championship is likely to deliver a combined economic impact and destination marketing benefit of £70 million for Northern Ireland.
The First Minister Peter Robinson said, “This is wonderful news, not only for Royal Portrush Golf Club but for the whole of Northern Ireland. The decision to bring The Open back to Northern Ireland is a tremendous vote of confidence in the game here and follows the huge success of the Irish Open in 2012, the first in European Tour history to sell out. The R&A’s decision to invite Portrush to join The Open rota is a ringing endorsement of Northern Ireland and I know we will deliver an event that we can all be proud of.”
The deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said, “I welcome the official confirmation today by The R&A that The Open will return to Royal Portrush. This announcement will create much anticipation and excitement as the thought of our local golfers challenging for the Claret Jug on home soil is set to become a reality. Hosting The Open will leave a lasting imprint on Royal Portrush and I wish everyone involved in the planning and preparation every success and assure them of the full support of the Executive.”
The Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster added, “The Open’s arrival on the north coast will tell the world what we already know – that not only is Northern Ireland home to three Major winning golfers, it is home to some of the best courses on the planet. We will pull out all the stops to ensure that – just as we did with the Irish Open – Northern Ireland will stage a world class event that will be long remembered by players and spectators alike.”
The Open was held at Royal Portrush in 1951, when Englishman Max Faulkner lifted the famous Claret Jug after a two-shot victory over Argentina’s Antonio Cerda, on the only occasion it has been played outside Scotland and England.
Royal Portrush successfully staged the Irish Open in 2012, with more than 130,000 people attending throughout the week, and it has held the Senior Open Championship on six occasions. The Amateur Championship is being played at the Dunluce links for the third time this week.
Peter Unsworth, the Chairman of The R&A’s Championship Committee, said, “Royal Portrush is one of the great links courses and we could not be more excited at bringing The Open back to Northern Ireland. We welcome the support of the Northern Ireland Executive and the various agencies involved who will play a key role in the Championship. There is huge enthusiasm for golf in Northern Ireland and throughout Ireland and we expect fantastic support for The Open when it returns.”
Simon Rankin, Captain of Royal Portrush Golf Club added, “I am sure our members will be delighted to see The Open being played here once again. It will be of great benefit to the club and Northern Ireland as a whole to have the game’s greatest Championship played here. This is a great day in the celebrated history of Irish golf.”
The Open Championship www.TheOpen.com