Irish duo boosts Open venue hopes

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The back-to-back US Open successes of Ulstermen Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy has brought the prospect of the British Open returning to Northern Ireland a step closer, the Royal & Ancient’s top official said on Wednesday. The one and only time golf’s oldest and most revered tournament was held outside of the British mainland was in 1951 when Englishman Max Faulkner triumphed at Royal Portrush. Since then, the tournament has been shared between a handful of top links courses in England and Scotland with the current rotation involving nine layouts.
But the stunning wins pulled off by McDowell and McIlroy have switched the focus back on Northern Irish golf and the Royal and Ancient is fully aware of a growing clamour for it to be held at either Royal Portrush or Royal County Down. “Obviously there’s much emotion about Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy’s victories and why don’t we go back to Northern Ireland and perhaps Portrush in particular. I understand that,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. “You can’t, however, base where you hold The Open on where players come from. I think that should be obvious to anyone. “Portrush is a terrific golf course, may well be strong enough for an Open, but as we all know, there are other issues of infrastructure, accommodation, roads, what would the commercial success or otherwise of the championship be that need consideration. “We are not ruling it out by any stretch of the imagination, but it would have to meet all those criteria, and I don’t think it’s something that’s going to be in any way imminent. Currently, the schedule for the British Open sees it return to Royal Lytham in northwest England in 2012 before going to Muirfield in Scotland in 2013 and then onto Hoylake’s Royal Liverpool in 2014. In 2015, the expectation is that the tournament will return, as it has done every five years in recent times, to the Home of Golf at St Andrews, but as yet there has been no official announcement on this. After that, the R&A is free to decide which venues will play host. McDowell, who learned his golf at Royal Portrush, has been particulalry vocal about Northern Ireland hosting the Open. “Could the golf course handle the grandstands and the routing to get 50,000 people about it? That’s one of the keys and (Royal & Ancient chief executive) Peter Dawson has told me that Portrush doesn’t have the surface area for it. “I don’t know if that’s an excuse or what.”