Following Darren Clarke’s Open Championship victory, and Major wins for fellow Northern Ireland golfers Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, it looks increasingly that high-level golf will be returning to the Province in the next two years.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson – who, in advance of Clarke’s win, described the possibility of the championship returning to Royal Portrush as ‘not in any way imminent’ – responded more positively in the aftermath of Royal St Georges. And now, it appears as though the Irish Open could be played at Portrush as soon as 2013.
All three of Northern Ireland’s recent Major champions will be at this year’s Irish Open, being played on the Killeen course at the Killarney complex in County Kerry. But the event, which has been adversely affected by the Irish economic crisis, losing its title sponsor last year, looks set to head north.
Royal Portrush club captain Phillip Tweedie confirmed the possibility. Tweedie said: “The Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has now given a firm commitment in terms of providing the financial backing that is required and the European Tour has also strongly endorsed the move.”
Northern Ireland Tourism Minister Arlene Foster is also behind the switch. “This will need a major commitment from Royal Portrush Golf Club, the European Tour, sponsors, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Tourism Ireland, Coleraine Borough Council and others,” she said.
Local sources suggest that bringing the Irish Open to Portrush is a necessary proving ground before any attempt to win a second Open for Northern Ireland could succeed; however Peter Dawson has continued to sound a note of caution, citing the difficulties of access, accommodation and corporate revenues as problems to be overcome.