x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

McIlroy - McDowell make for Northern Ireland's case to host a major

The golf-obsessed country boast the courses, such as Royal County Down, and players, such as Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, but not the infrastructure.

Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irishman, followed up countryman Graeme McDowell's success at the US Open on Sunday.
Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irishman, followed up countryman Graeme McDowell's success at the US Open on Sunday.

Northern Ireland is a small country that can produce back-to-back US Open champions yet does not boast a decent sized golf tournament.

It has been 60 years since the Province, with a population of under 1.8 million, hosted the British Open and many who live there believe it could be another half century before it happen again, if it ever will.

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, European golf's governing body, said only recently that while the courses are superb, the facilities just do not exist.

However, Rory McIlroy's dominance in winning the US Open, a year after his friend and countryman, Graeme McDowell, lifted the trophy, has showered more attention on this golf-obsessed nation.

And the question being asked more frequently is: why can't Northern Ireland host a British Open?

"It's certainly not the courses," said Stephen Deane, a professional at Dubai's Emirates Golf Club and also a Northern Irishman. "I used to work at Royal County Down and it's better than most on the Open rota. It was voted the second best in Britain after Muirfield and in a recent pool was fourth in the world.

"You should see the amount of Americans who go to Northern Ireland every year because the courses are so good.

"The problem we have is the infrastructure. There aren't enough hotels and work would need to be done on the roads. That is something the council and tourist board would need to look at before we could be considered for an Open.

"But I think that will happen in time and it's not as if these new hotels would then stand empty. Northern Ireland is a busy enough place already and even more golfers would come to the country if we got to host a major."

Deane is right to say that the lack of accommodation is the only real problem, although one other concern at Royal County Down is the lack of space needed for a tented village and enormous press facilities that such an event demands these days. Northern Ireland will host the Senior Amateur Open in August and that is as big as it gets for the country.

McDowell has been a long-time advocate of his country being put back on the golf calendar.

He said: "That is a lifetime dream. I've played with Peter Dawson a few times and I've quizzed him are we ever going back to Royal Portrush, my own club.

"He's told me it's not the logistics of hotel and travel, but it's the surface area of the course itself, accommodating all the crowds and grandstands."

Northern Ireland is now the only country, apart from the United States, to have different back-to-back winners in the same major thanks to McDowell and McIlroy.

Deane said: "Northern Ireland is a real power in golf right now. The two guys have really put us on the map. We have the courses to host the biggest tournaments and I think it will happen. The Open is being played at St Andrews in 2015 and the venues after that have yet to be announced.

"I'm sure if the R&A gave us a few years to prepare, then somewhere like Royal County Down would be ready. We deserve it."

 

ncameron@thenational.ae