Royal Portrush possible venue for Open Championship

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Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland celebrates victory on the 18th green during the final round of The 140th Open Championship at Royal St George's
Image caption,
Portrush staged the oldest competition in golf, just once, in 1951

Darren Clarke's victory at the Open Championship has increased the call for the tournament to be played in Northern Ireland once again.

The winner of the 140th Open has long wanted to see the competition played at Royal Portrush in County Antrim.

Clarke spoke to the Royal & Ancient chief executive after his win and pressed him on the possibility of the Open returning to Northern Ireland.

Portrush staged the oldest competition in golf, just once, in 1951.

Max Faulkner took home the Claret Jug that year but since then the tournament has always been played in England or Scotland.

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said that she is keen to the see the Open staged in Northern Ireland again.

With Clarke becoming the third Northern Irishman in 14 months to win a major, the clamour for the Open to return to the north coast course has increased.

"At the moment they (the R&A) can't see a way of having it there, so it's very tough," Clarke said.

Image caption,
Darren Clarke hopes to one day see the Open Championship played at Royal Portrush

"I wish there was some way around it and I hope at some stage in the future they will find a way around it because the golf course is every bit as good as any of the Open venues.

"It's good enough to be in the Open rota. Hopefully they will figure a way around the logistics if they possibly can."

The tourism minister believes that a successful staging of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush will boost the chances of the Open Championship returning to the venue.

"We're looking at bringing the Irish Open to Portrush," said the minister.

"That is very much a probability in the near to medium future. That will showcase Royal Portrush in a way which will make it easier for us to get the British Open here.

"Once the R&A can see that we can organise an event like the Irish Open, they will be looking at us in a more meaningful way."

The minister also answered the claims that Portrush might not have the space, road network or hotel rooms to accommodate the Open by insisting that not everyone has to stay in the seaside resort.

"If you look at Royal St George's, they have been busing people from all around the south of England," said Ms Foster.

"Northern Ireland is a pretty small place. I think we can very much accommodate the British Open in the future."

Royal and Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said that the Open's organisers will have another look at staging it in Portrush.

"I think we're all very aware of the fact that three winners from Northern Ireland increases the interest level in this," he said.

Next year's tournament is at Royal Lytham in northwest England, in 2013 it goes to Muirfield in Scotland and Royal Liverpool will host the event in 2014.

'Closer look'

While the quality and suitability of the Royal Portrush course is not in question, it is the surrounding infrastructure that could hold back any bid.

"The usual mixture of a great course and plenty of infrastructure, combined with a prospect of commercial success, is what's needed," said Mr Dawson.

"No doubt about the golf course at Portrush, although there might be one or two things one would do, but the other two are what we have to look at.

"I don't want to start a hare running on this, other than we are going to take a closer look."

Tourism Ireland is also attempting to generate interest as a result of the unprecedented success of Northern Ireland's golfers in the last few years.

"Tourism Ireland is working hard to capitalise on this in Great Britain, the US and in our other golf markets around the world where we are inviting potential holidaymakers to come visit the 'home of champions'," said Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons.

"This has been an extraordinary 13 months for Northern Ireland golf with Darren's win yesterday coming on top of Rory's McIlroy's success at the US Open earlier this year and Graeme McDowell's victory in 2010."