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Royal Portrush will host The Open Championship in 2019 for the first time since Max Faulkner won there in 1951. Could this be a stimulus for more venues to join the rota?
Could the Open rota be further expanded?
The announcement that The Open Championship of 2019 will be contested at Royal Portrush, just the second time the great competition has been held outside Scotland and England, has rightly been greeted with excitement and expectation. After huge crowds attended the Irish Open when it was contested at Portrush in 2012, there’s a realistic belief that 2019 could witness record spectator numbers, potentially broadening golf’s appeal. With that prospect in mind, is there scope for further expanding the Open rota to include more UK courses?
A key argument for moving The Open to new venues is the opportunity of generating new interest and enthusiasm for golf, whilst keeping the oldest championship fresh and dynamic. The Open at Portrush provides a carrot for established golf fans. Not only will the large, local base of golfing supporters turn out in force to see golf’s greatest individual event contested on their doorstep, but also travelling fans will be more inclined to make the journey to see the battle for the Claret Jug over a different playing field. In addition, people who may not have otherwise considered attending The Open might view the novelty of a Northern Irish instalment as a good enough reason to include it on their summer itinerary.
With Portrush’s inclusion, The Open will be contested in three of the four home nations over the following five years. The case for the addition of a Welsh course to the rota has never carried more weight. There are many great links tracks to choose from in Wales, but there’s one obvious candidate.
Royal Porthcawl was host to The Senior Open Championship in 2014 and will welcome that event once again in 2017. This must be a place firmly on The R&A’s radar as a fine championship venue and it would be great to see it used for The Open at some point in the coming years.
But actually, there are superb courses in every corner of the British Isles and a number that could theoretically host The Open. There would be logistical issues associated with many, and probably all, of them, and The R&A would have to consider these, just as it has done – very thoroughly – with Royal Portrush and other venues currently on the rota. There are hindrances that could be preclusive, but there are problems that can be overcome. The R&A is used to complications when it comesto planning and organisation. Each course on the current rota comes with its own set of practical challenges.
Consider Royal St George’s. It’s a brilliant venue that always produces exciting championships, but the roads around the small Kentish village of Sandwich are not exactly fit for purpose, and accommodation is dispersed with many choosing to stay as far afield as London. But these challenges are surmounted to ensure that this wonderful links continues to be one of the most eagerly awaited fixtures on The Open schedule.
Then perhaps Turnberry, also with awkward access and the lack of an obvious hub. It means The Open’s supporting cavalcade becomes spread across a wide area of Ayrshire and it has historically been something of a battle to reach the venue. Again though, these difficulties are shouldered in order that the region benefits and sports fans across the globe can watch the world’s best battle over one of the truly great courses, in a simply stunning setting. Would we have traded the Duel in the Sun for greater organisational convenience?
A controversial question: does The Open have to be contested on a links course? It always has in the past, but is this requirement an old-fashioned limitation? There are many fine inland courses in the UK, over heath, moor and park. And many areas of central Britain where golf could do with the boost The Open would bring.
How many would turn out to watch an Open contested on one of the great heathland tracks of the Home Counties? Both the Ricoh Women’s British Open and The Senior Open Championship make occasional moves in that direction. Isn’t the best way to reach the greatest number possible to take The Open Championship to where the greatest numbers of people are based?
As a counter argument to opening up the rota, one of the best things about The Open being held over a restricted selection of courses is that those watching become familiar with the layouts and the challenges they pose. Holes become instantly recognisable, whether it be where Mickelson made that stunning birdie in 2013, or where Casey came to grief in 2010. Something making The Masters such compelling viewing is the fact we all know Augusta as if we’ve played it ourselves, and because we understand what’s required on almost every shot a player faces, the viewing experience is heightened.
And The Open has a distinct character and feel because of the unique nature of the courses it visits. These majestic seaside layouts provide welcome, and essential, respite from the monotony of regular tournament golf, not just for the spectators but also for the players. The true golfing greats have realised they must master the links to be considered legends of the game. The links is where golf began and nowhere else do weather, terrain and surface conditions combine to produce such a unique playing environment. When the ground is firm and fast and the wind is whipping, there’s no golfing challenge like it. This is indeed where the Champion Golfer of the Year should be determined.
There are ten courses on the current Open rota, spread wide across the UK. These historic tracks test the world’s best and, because of their relatively regular involvement in the tournament, they have become known and loved by golf fans who recognise the individual holes and the challenges they pose.
As proved by Royal Portrush’s inclusion, the rota is not a closed shop and The R&A is constantly reviewing and considering other options. But it is justified in being mindful not to overfill the cup. A gin in a tumbler overflowing with tonic is still a gin and tonic, but it’s not quite as satisfying.
Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and it was concentrated by his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin (also of Golf Monthly)... Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?
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