When Royal Portrush was confirmed on The Open schedule it seemed that it would be 2019 before it would return to the north coast.
However, The Open Championship twitter account issued a tantalising tweet to golf fans this week saying: ‘Early planning for #The Open @royalportrush is underway. Are you looking forward to its return to Northern Ireland?’ raising questions that the tournament might take place before 2019.
Royal Portrush Golf Club Secretary Wilma Erskine confirmed work was already in the planning stages with the possibility of an announcement on a definite date later this year.
“The R&A have confirmed Royal Portrush are on the rota, but because there is quite a lot of work to be carried out the date has not been finalised yet,” Wilma revealed to Times Sport.
“Where we are at right now is that a planning application has been submitted to Coleraine Borough Council and we are hoping for a positive result at the end of this month.
“This will be their last meeting as Coleraine Council before the super council takes over and we are hoping this will go through and then we can start actual work.
“First all the tendering will go out with the idea that work can start around July, and that is dependant on the bird nesting season and we are expecting that he work itself will take the guts of two years.”
The decision of the R&A to bring the tournament to the County Antrim course comes with criteria as Wilma continued: “We’re building a couple of new holes and changing some tees, some greens and some bunkers.
“We are taking two holes from the Valley course and re-designing another few holes for the Valley to replace those.
“We have to start with sorting out the Valley first then once that becomes 18 holes then we can take the two holes from the Valley and construct on Dunluce. A new green shed also has to be built so there’s a great deal of work involved here.
“Once the planning and the tendering is all sorted is the R&A will decide on what year they want to go for.
“The decision on the year the Open Championship is held here is not totally out of our hands, it depends on many things - planning, tendering, completion of work and how the R&A feel, because they want to make sure that the course is in tip top condition.
“However, we would anticipate that they will make an announcement later this year about which year they are going to hold the Open at Royal Portrush.”
As if that wasn’t a big enough project, Wilma and the team at Royal Portrush have the added concern of the recent erosion at the Whiterocks
“We carried out a coastal erosion project some 30 years ago”, added Wilma.
“However, we’ve obviously had a few years of very high tides, strong winds and a lot of sand movement. We brought a consultant in to look at it all and there’s an area towards Portrush where we are trying to do further armament to try and protect it but again that has to go to planning so we will probably be making a submission to the Borough Council again with regards the erosion and armament.
“In the last few years there has been severe erosion and its now affecting the sixth tee as well as the fifth green. There have been really high tides and its been eating away and we need to be seen to be protecting and making it look natural and blend in to the Whiterocks so that’s another big project we have on our hands.
“Overall its all very positive and its one step at a time. The main thing is that the R&A are perfectly happy to return to Royal Portrush, so in order to accommodate for the players and the huge crowds we have to make these changes to the course.
“Its a very big project but it will be worth it. It will be great for the area, it will highlight Northern Ireland and it will highlight the golf industry in Northern Ireland and Ireland.”