Portrush Open hopes dealt blow

THE Executive has been urged to redouble its efforts to bring the Open golf championship to Portrush after the head of the tournament poured cold water on the idea yesterday (Wednesday).

Speaking ahead of the Open, which tees off today, Royal and Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said the course at Royal Portrush would need major work and investment to accommodate the Open, one of the four major golf events in the world.

Mr Dawson said: “Where would you put the big grandstand complex? The practice ground would need a lot of work at Portrush in my own estimation. And we don’t have a finishing hole that would have the grandstands around it. There would be much work to do for an Open to go to Portrush. A huge amount of money would need to be spent.”

While he praised the scenic north coast golf club for the success of the Irish Open – which attracted 130,000 fans last month – Mr Dawson said the Royal and Ancient were not looking for another venue for the Open.

East Londonderry MLA Adrian McQuillan said he was “disappointed” by the remarks and questioned whether Mr Dawson was playing politics. “After the huge success of the Irish Open, hopes have been very high that we can host the Open, but to hear these comments is a bit disappointing,” said Mr McQuillan, a Coleraine councillor.

“I am not sure why he has chosen to make these remarks. Maybe he is playing politics, possibly trying to force the Executive’s hand.

“The Enterprise and Tourism Minister Arlene Foster deserves a lot of praise for helping attract the Irish Open and I am sure that the whole Executive will now redouble their efforts to see the Open coming here in the future, if not the near future.”

UUP MLA Sandra Overend said: “It seems that the R&A chief executive Peter Dawson has given much food for thought to the minister in charge of tourism, Arlene Foster, should Northern Ireland want to become a serious contender to host the Open anytime in the future.

“However, I do feel that this is something vitally important for Minister Foster to consider. Northern Ireland does, after all, celebrate three major golfing kings.”

A spokesperson for Mrs Foster’s department said: “We would also obviously be very keen to see the Open coming to Northern Ireland at some point and I am sure all the various stakeholders will want to work with the R&A to see what would be required to make that a reality.”

The enterprise department said they will continue to work with the European Tour in a effort to bring the Irish Open back to Northern Ireland on a regular basis.

News Letter golf writer Paul Kelly said that while Mr Dawson’s remarks were disappointing, they did not come as a real surprise.

“The fact is that Royal Portrush has always been an outsider to host the Open Championship,” he said. “Aside from their concerns over the course and infrastructure, the Open is a huge commercial vehicle and the R&A is juggling the many varied interests of sponsors and television deals. There would be substantial costs involved in moving the entire circus to Northern Ireland and as yet the R&A seem reluctant to take the risk.”