THE ROYAL AND Ancient Golf Society chairman Peter Dawson says that The Open Championship will generate an estimated £70 million for the Northern Ireland economy when it is eventually hosted in Portrush.
However, before the major tournament comes to this island, Dawson says that ‘several million’ must be spent on Royal Portrush and its surroundings.
2019 is the next available date for one of the courses on the R&A rota to host The Open, but Dawson warns that until the changes are confirmed, then the wait will continue for the north coast venue.
“The Open will generate an estimated £70 million for the Northern Ireland economy and will certainly give the game here and the whole region huge exposure,” Dawson said at yesterday’s confirmation of the addition of Portrush to the R&A rota before briefly outlining some of the changes that would be necessary.
“The golf course is a wonderful, wonderful links course; but it’s a long time since 1951. The game has moved on and like all the other hosts we’ll work with the course to make sure they provide the sort of test that an Open Championship should provide.
“The course can certainly do that with some alterations. Not just from a playing point of view, but also in terms of surrounding infrastructure.
“For example, the 18th green here is difficult from a grandstand point of view, and also in terms of television compounds and so on. It’s a lot of work before you get to the point when you feel you can make an announcement [of the first Open to come to the venue].”
Seated alongside the R&A chairman, club captain Simon Rankin was able to speak a little more freely about the likelihood of the required changed being made swiftly:
“The R&A have worked tirelessly over the last number of years to achieve this. One of the reasons it has taken so long has been working out how appropriate and sympathetic course changes can be made to allow Major Championship golf to return.
“The council at Royal Portrush now believe this is possible and we will take these plans to our members, the caretakers of the course, and we will work with the R&A and their architect to manage this in the most respectful way.”
Aside from that 18th green, Dawson was unwilling to speculate further on aspects of the course that may change, saying that the club members must be the first to be presented with the details.
Specifics were also thin on the ground when Dawson spoke in monetary terms of the investment to be made, simply saying: ”we will be investing several million pounds in bringing the golf course and infrastructure up to where we need it to be.”
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, responded: “It’s sufficient to say that, with millions invested, we expect to see it return ten-fold.”
More important, in the eyes of Robinson, were the implications for tourism and the further rebranding of The North so that it can profit from the long-term benefits of a prestigious tournament.
“We come from a troubled background in Northern Ireland. There’s reputational damage because of our past. We want people to think of Northern Ireland and then to immediately think of golf – those are the positives from a Northern Ireland point of view.
“The tourist board chief is walking around here like a Cheshire cat because of the potential it provides, not just for the immediate spend, but because almost 100 million people will be watching on television when we have this tournament and they’ll see the spectacular views that we have around the course.”