Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Royal Portrush vs. Royal & Ancient

[Photo: the stunning par four 5th hole - your first views of the sea]

When I worked in London, one of my colleagues once told me that you can negotiate with everyone… everyone, that is, except the Revenue, and Marks & Spencer.

I have a feeling that my colleague hadn’t fully considered the golfing world and, in particular, the R&A.

So, while Darren Clarke’s Major victory has prompted much excitement and many ‘demands’ for the Open to be returned to Royal Portrush, there are certain things to consider... in other words let's not get carried away just yet. Yes, it was held in Royal Portrush for the one and only time in 1951, and yes, since then it has only been held at one of nine courses which work on a rota basis...

1. Royal Birkdale

2. Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s

3. Royal St. George’s

4. Royal Liverpool (Hoylake)

5. Royal Troon

6. Carnoustie

7. St. Andrew’s (every five years)

8. Turnberry

9. Muirfield

... so it would be nice to say a change. But just because Darren, G-Mac and Rory have lifted Major trophies in recent times, and just because the Northern Irish Tourism Minister (and everyone else north and south of the border) is clamouring for the Open to return to this island, don’t expect the R&A to budge more than a millimetre. This is the R&A we’re talking about – an organisation that was founded in 1834 and whose first patron was King William IV. And whose Rule Book makes reading Ulysses or studying a PhD in Theoretical Physics look like reading the back of a cereal packet. Can I also point out that R&A stands for Royal and ANCIENT… these boys take their time over everything.

That they have agreed to conduct a new Feasibility Study is an enormous step forward... but it is only one step. I suspect, cynically, that this is a way of distracting all of us passionate Irishmen and Northern Irishmen (to be politically correct… not forgetting women either) until the clamour dies down a bit. I’m not doubting that they’ll do a study and continue to 'monitor the situation', but what has changed since the last time they did one, which was quite recently?

Their concerns are whether the infrastructure can accommodate the tens of thousands of people (30,000 a day at Royal St. George’s) who are going to descend on Portrush, a town with a population of six thousand plus. Not that the size matters, but the infrastructure has to be there (accommodation and roads) as well as the logistical ability to deal with such vast volumes of people and the commercial enterprise that goes with it. Perhaps, in their eagerness to attract the British Open to Portrush, the NI Assembly can start building roads and the necessary infrastructure to satisfy R&A concerns…

… but what can the NI Assembly do about the political situation which is fluctuating so chaotically at the moment? The answer to that may be the most troubling of all and one that no Feasibility Study can satisfy. In such circumstances, as much as I would like to be proved wrong, I imagine the R&A will stick to the simple philosophy of… if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The British Senior Amateur Championship is due to be held at Royal Portrush shortly, but the successful hosting of an Irish Open is much more likely to convince the R&A that Northern Ireland has the wherewithal to cope with the biggest championship in golf. Let's hope that we can put our best foot forward and show them what we can do.

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