GOLF: Portrush can stage the Open

IT may still be early days to be thinking of staging The Open Championship at Royal Portrush, but PGA European Tournament director, Miguel Vidaor certainly believes there is every reason to think it could return to Northern Ireland for only the second time in its history.

The North Coast is still buzzing from hosting the Irish Open, the first time it was held in Northern Ireland since 1953.

And a week on the talk is still about a swift return for the tournament.

But with Royal & Ancient Club representatives – organisers of The Open Championship – also on site last week watching over how things progressed, there were whispers that the world’s biggest golfing event could return to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951.

The Irish Open was hailed as a tremendous success, with record breaking crowds making their way to the North Coast during tournament week.

Over 130,000 people watched the event over six days, with organisers surprised by the crowds who turned up for the first official practice day and also the Pro-Am on Wednesday.

Vidaor said there had been every belief before the tournament was staged that it would be a success.

“But we have also been blown away by how it has actually been received by the public.”

He added: “We had known about the golf course, we had two or three senior British Opens over here, so we knew about the Dunluce Links.

“It is one of the best courses in the world.

“It is just an amazing piece of land and a stunning place.”

While the course and the landscape had played a part in the Irish Open being a sell-out over the four days, Vidaor said a milestone had been established in the European Tour.

“This is the first time we have sold out. That is absolutely amazing.

“The success of the Irish golfers, firstly Padraig Harrington and then the Northern Ireland golfers, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, have ensured it has been a dream come true for everyone involved.

“It was only fair to be able to show that off to the whole world.

“The beauty of Royal Portrush Golf Club, the beauty of golf in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“I have loved every second of it here.”

So – another Irish Open in the near future then?

Vidaor exclaimed: “I hope so!

“I understand we are going to Carton House next year, that is announced.

“But I understand we will be coming back here.

“I do not know when, but it is on the cards. And I cannot wait for whenever the Tour gets back here.

“All the feedback from the players has been absolutely phenomenal.

“You just look on Twitter and see what they are saying about how great it is.

“This is just a breathtaking place.”

Vidaor admitted given the size of the area they had been presented with a big challenge.

“Our management team did a tremendous job in staging this event.

“At the end of the day my responsibility goes on the staging of the event inside the ropes, their responsibility goes outside.

“It is a huge task. To cater for 27,000 people properly – and that was why we had to put a number on it, we had to draw the line somewhere – we did not want to risk going beyond that, not giving the people good value for money.

“I think we got it right and it has been a tremendous success.”

There were almost 31,000 people at Portrush – in the most appalling of conditions – on Saturday and to stage The Open, the attendance figure would have to go up by at least another four or five thousand a day.

Could Portrush cope with that given the limit had been set around 27,000 initially for the Irish Open daily?

Vidaor said: “The course has coped with it, no doubt.

“But the Open is a beast of its own. It is a monster. It is the biggest tournament in the world.

“From a golfing point of view, there is absolutely no doubt that the Dunluce course is up for it.

“Infrastructure wise, the Open is a big animal, but I am sure it can be done.

“There are another 18 holes down there (referring to the Valley Course which runs adjacent to the Dunluce Links) which could come into the equation.

“It is a question of just doing it,” said Vidaor.

“We have cleared a lot of paths through the bushes and through the dunes for the staging of the Irish Open last week.

“I am sure more can be done. But it is not up to me, it is a question for the R & A.”

Vidaor also praised the Royal Portrush members and staff for their efforts in making the Irish open a resounding success.

“A lot of people were involved behind the scenes and the course was in the best condition you could have hoped for.

“It was simply amazing!”