Might Open venture to Northern Ireland?

July, 13, 2011

SANDWICH, England -- Only once has the Open Championship ventured outside of Great Britain in its 140 occasions, and we are 60 years removed from its lone foray to Northern Ireland.

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Royal Portrush
David Cannon/Getty ImagesIn 2004, Royal Portrush hosted the British Senior Open.

Englishman Max Faulkner won the tournament at famed Royal Portrush, and the tournament has never been back, mostly because of logistical issues.

It certainly has nothing to do with the golf course, considered one of the great links of the world and ranked fifth in Golf Digest's list of the top 50 links in Great Britain and Ireland.

But the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which administers the Open, has never seen fit to go back, adding Turnberry to the rotation in 1977 and getting back to places such as Carnoustie and Royal Liverpool in recent years, seemingly satisfied with the current nine venues.

But the recent success of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy -- both from Northern Ireland -- has renewed the discussion about returning to Royal Portrush, although officials are in no hurry.

"Obviously, there is 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," said Peter Dawson, CEO of the R&A. "And I understand that. 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 be the commercial success or otherwise of the championship that need consideration.

"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, but it's certainly something we'll have a look at again in view of the success of the golfers from that part of the world."

Dawson said there is not a land issue at Portrush, as a second course is on site. It is more about road access, quantity of hotels, getting enough corporate support. The venue is about an hour from the Belfast airport.

"What would the crowd size be, things of that nature," Dawson said.

Not discussed were the religious and political issues that still plague the region. Just this week, there were riots in Belfast. McDowell, for one, who is a huge supporter of the golf course where he grew up, has said that he believes the political situation stands in the way of an Open return.

Since the tournament began in 1860, it has been played at 14 venues. Prestwick, the first, along with Royal Cinque Ports (just down the road from Royal St. George's), Musselburgh, Prince's (also right by Royal St. George's) and Portrush are the only ones no longer in use.

The others in the current rotation with Royal St. George's are Carnoustie, St. Andrews, Muirfield, Royal Troon, Turnberry, Royal Lytham & St. Anne's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Birkdale.

Next year's tournament is at Lytham, followed by Muirfield in 2013 and Royal Liverpool in 2014. If the Open follows form and returns to St. Andrews, as it has every five years starting in 1990, that course will get the nod again in 2015 -- although it has yet to become official.

"We have a number of detailed issues that we're working on," Dawson said. "I would be very surprised if you were surprised at what we announce about 2015."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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