The campaign to place Royal Portrush on the Open roster is strong and vocal but it faces intense scrutiny from the R&A, the game’s governing body.
If there was an Open for word games, then Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, would have to be severely handicapped to allow anyone a chance of victory. He is an executive who would make the most garrulous politician seem tongue-tied.
However, his encouragement to those lobbying on behalf of Royal Portrush was severely limited. He admitted the political situation in Northern Ireland was a factor and suggested that there may be problems with the infrastructure and the commercial prospects of an Open at the venue.
The decision, of course, does not need to be taken soon. Royal Lytham and St Annes will hold the tournament next year, Muirfield in 2013, Royal Liverpool in 2014 and, almost certainly, St Andrews in 2015.
Dawson admitted yesterday that the succession of Northern Irish winners had brought the Royal Portrush question to the fore. “We have said we will take a closer look at Portush,” he said.
But he added that the events in Ireland this summer, where rioting has broken out during the marching season, will be a factor in the decision-making. The Open is scheduled to take place at the most combustible time in the province.
Asked if he could say emphatically that the political situation was no longer an issue, Dawson replied: “No, I can’t say that emphatically. Things seem to be getting an awful lot better but I have been reading of some difficulty in the papers lately. I have no idea how exaggerated or otherwise those are. It will be one of the things we will take into account, although I do no think it is right in the forefront of our mind.”
The R&A is properly mindful of the size of the event and of the necessity of making as much money from it as possible. This was articulated more delicately when Dawson said: “The usual mixture of a great course and and plenty of infrastructure combined with a prospect of commercial success is what’s needed. No doubt about the golf course at Portrush -- there might be one or two things one would do -- but the other two are what we have to look at.”
However, he committed the organisation to at least exploring the option before adding a note of caution. “I do not want to start a hare running on this, other than we are going to take a look.”
There is the possibility that the European tour could give Royal Portrush a test run by awarding it the Irish Open but there will be no pressure from the R&A to pursue this. The Open champion, of course, has a vested interest in the debate. Clarke is a member of Royal Portrush and his boys played the course on Sunday as their father went about his business in Kent. “I met with Peter and the R&A last night in the trophy room,” said Clarke of a post-victory chat with Dawson and officials.
He added: “The logistics are very hard to measure in terms of the Open, how many people you are going to have and bedrooms and all of that sort of stuff. The R&A have been doing it for a very long time so they know what is required.
“At the moment, Royal Portrush has not quite come up to those requirements and their logistics. At some stage in the future, hopefully they will do and the R&A will look at it in a more favourable manner and have the Open there. From a personal point of view, I would love to see it going to Royal Portrush because it is every bit as good as any venue that is on the rota right now.”
Clarke, though, accepted there were commercial demands. “We have had 181,000 spectators through the gates this week and that has been fantastic. Do they think they will get 181,000 people through the gates at Royal Portrush? I’m sure they would but they have to look at other aspects outside of that to make the tournament work.”
The R&A, though, could rest content that the Open of 2011 worked. There was limited criticism of the course and its set-up and unanimous acclaim for its condition. It produced a winner who was ranked outside the top 100 before the tournament began. But Clarke played beautifully and is a fine links player with a decent pedigree of past achievement.
The only other mild quibble was addressed yesterday by Jim McArthur, chairman of the R&A championship committee, who was asked about the cut -- limiting qualifiers to the first 70 and ties -- being too restrictive as it eliminated players just seven shots off the lead. There is no immediate prospect of that policy being changed.
Unfortunately for Nothern Ireland, the same verdict applies to the likelihood of Royal Portrush as an Open venue in the immediate future.