2019 Open at Portrush: NI’s biggest sports event

The Open could generate a staggering £70 million for the local economy

The Claret Jug at Royal Portrush
The Claret Jug at Royal Portrush
(Image credit: R&A)

The R&A has announced the 2019 Open Championship will be held at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. It is expected to be the largest sporting event ever to have taken place in the country. Can Portrush cope?

2019 will be the first time The Open has been played at the famous Northern Irish links of Royal Portrush since Max Faulkner triumphed there back in 1951. That was the only other occasion in the tournament’s 150-year history that it has been contested outside of Scotland or England. It’s expected that the 2019 tournament could be worth £70 million to the Northern Irish economy.

When Royal Portrush hosted the Irish Open in 2012, it was a resounding success and the huge galleries (100,000 plus) that attended the event were enough to make everyone, including the R&A take note of the possible benefits of staging the great event over the Dunluce Links.

Still, there will have been a number of uncertainties both logistical and in terms of infrastructure to have been pondered on the long route to this announcement.

It has looked certain from the amount of interest in the Irish Open both 2012, and again this year at Royal County Down, that an Open in Northern Ireland should draw significant crowds. But the questions that had to be asked were: could Portrush cope with quarter of a million spectators, plus the world’s media and the simply enormous cavalcade that accompanies golf’s greatest individual tournament? How would they get there? Where would they stay? Would it be too much?

Well, those questions can be answered fairly easily.

In terms of transport, the road links are pretty good – certainly no worse than around Royal St George’s (they couldn’t really be) or Turnberry. The M2 means Belfast is just an hour away. Londonderry is about the same. Fans from Scotland, England and Wales will have to fly or ferry in but there’s capacity for that. In fact, it could be an extra novelty that encourages people to make the journey.

Accommodation could be seen as a little bit of a problem in the immediate vicinity, as Portrush certainly couldn’t house everybody. But, as mentioned above, Belfast and Londonderry aren’t too far away. Again, at St George’s people stay in London. Or in Edinburgh for Muirfield and St Andrews, in Liverpool for Hoylake or Birkdale.

And, there’s plenty of space at Portrush too for spectators, parking, tents, media centre and everything else – there’s another course where all that can go on top.

The decision to go to Portrush will not have been taken lightly by the R&A. They will have weighed up the pros and cons and it seems clear the potential benefits outweigh the concerns.

It will be fantastic to see The Open at Portrush, not least because Ireland and Northern Ireland have produced more Major Championship victories in the last 10 years than any other country save for the USA – they’ve earned it. The amount that Harrington, GMac, Clarke and McIlroy have done to raise the profile of the sport is incredible and with their star backing, the event is far more likely to be a great success.

Graeme McDowell on the 80-yard pitch:

Then there’s the course – the Harry Colt designed Dunluce Links is a belter already, but there are plans to improve it. The overall length of the course will be increased by 200 yards to 7,337 yards and two new holes are set to be created, under the guidance of Martin Ebert.

There’s work to do between now and 2019, but with unified efforts by the club, the R&A and the relevant bodies in Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush will be ready to welcome golf’s premier championship in just under four years time. It should be a cracker.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during 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 history section of "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?