For the first time since 1951, Northern Ireland will stage The Open Championship when golf's oldest major will head to Royal Portrush Golf Club. Irish fans have long been known for their staunch support of golf and the 2019 Open Championship is likely to be no different with Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A, of the belief that the event could actually sell out. So, without further ado, here's everything you need to know about the championship.
Sixty-eight years of patiently waiting will be rewarded next summer when Northern Ireland stages The Open for the second time in the championship’s long and illustrious history.
The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush, situated on the dramatic County Antrim coastline, will stage The 148th Open just as it did the 80th back in 1951.
On that occasion, England’s Max Faulkner made history as the first – and, to date, only – man to win the championship outside of England or Scotland.
Since then, Royal Portrush has been used to stage many high-profile events. The Senior Open has been contested there on six occasions, most recently in 2004. It has also been the setting for three stagings of the Amateur Championship and four Irish Opens.
However, throughout that time, The Open has remained an absent friend and little more than a fond memory.
That will change in 2019.
It was reported in summer 2014 that the championship would return to Northern Ireland at some point in the not too distant future. Confirmation that it would stage the 2019 event – as well as at least two further editions over the next 40 years – came in October 2015.
The news was widely welcomed, not least by Rory McIlroy, the most recent Northern Irishman to lift the Claret Jug.
“To hear that The Open is going there in 2019 is a dream come true,” said the 2014 ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’. “I never thought I would be able to play an Open Championship at home. I’m really excited.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Darren Clarke. In 2011, and at the 54th time of asking, the then 42-year-old held his nerve to secure his first major championship when he won The Open at Royal St George’s.
Born in County Tyrone, Clarke now lives in Portrush and will be 50 when The Open rolls into town. He is under no illusions as to the significance of the event’s return.
“This is going to be absolutely huge for Northern Ireland and, indeed, Ireland as a whole,” said Clarke. “To have the world’s biggest and best golf championship played at Royal Portrush, with all the passion that the Irish fans will bring to the event, is going to be amazing.”
Like Clarke and McIlroy, Graeme McDowell has made the journey from junior golfer in Northern Ireland to major champion. The 2010 US Open winner called news of The Open’s return to Northern Ireland “a dream come true”.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a child,” McDowell told The Telegraph. “To have Open Championship come to Portrush is special stuff.
“I’m very proud of where I grew up. I’m very proud of the tradition and history there, and it speaks volumes about how far my country has come.”
Significant changes to the course have been carried out by acclaimed design firm Mackenzie & Ebert to prepare it for the arrival of the world’s best players next summer. And make no mistake – the world’s best will be coming.
Dating back to 1860, The Open is the world’s oldest and most prestigious professional tournament. Its roll call of past champions reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of golf. Vardon, Jones, Hogan, Sarazen, Snead, Hagen, Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Trevino, Ballesteros, Faldo, Norman, Els, Woods – the greatest players in the history of the game have all had their names engraved onto the famous Claret Jug, and you need only to hear them talk about it to understand its place in golf history.
It was perhaps the late, great Arnold Palmer who summed it up best and most succinctly when he simply described the Claret Jug as “magnificent”. That’s how much it means to be an Open champion, and that’s precisely why the best in the world will visit Royal Portrush next summer.
This is The One. This is The Open. And it’s coming back to Northern Ireland. Excited yet?
Martin Ebert has particular reason to be excited about The Open returning to Royal Portrush.
One half of leading course architecture firm Mackenzie & Ebert, he has led on the extensive changes that have been made to the iconic links to prepare it for the arrival of the world’s best golfers next summer.
It has been a significant responsibility but Ebert is perfectly accustomed to that by now, having advised on changes to many of the most highly-ranked courses in the world, including multiple Open venues.
From Carnoustie, Turnberry and Royal Liverpool, to Royal St George’s, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Royal Troon, his insight and expertise has helped to ensure some of the most famous and revered layouts remain relevant to the modern game.
You can now add Royal Portrush to that list.
“It has been one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on,” reveals Ebert.
“The course and the setting are just stunning. All Opens are special but I truly believe this one is going to blow people away. If we get some sunshine – and a little bit of wind to challenge the players – then, with the backdrop of the ocean, I think it is going to be spectacular.”
Ebert’s association with Royal Portrush stretches back many years. It was the club, in fact, who approached him to advise on a ‘back tees’ project to prepare it for hosting the Amateur Championship in 2014. That also provided a platform for Ebert to show the R&A – and its then chief executive Peter Dawson – proposals that would enable the course to return to The Open Rota.
As the Amateur Championship was getting underway, Dawson made what he referred to as “just about the world’s worst kept secret” official. “On behalf of the R&A,” he said, “I am absolutely delighted to confirm that we have invited Royal Portrush Golf Club to again become a host venue for The Open.”
For Ebert, it was a fantastic moment. “Rumours about The Open going to Royal Portrush had been swirling for some time,” he recalls. “We had to try our best to pour cold water on them as you don’t want to fuel the fire too much. But, at the same time, behind the scenes, we were doing our best to help make it happen.
“I think one of the key moments was when Peter Dawson visited and we got to show him the proposals. Equally, the Irish Open in 2012 was significant, too.
That demonstrated that there was an infrastructure in place that didn’t need too much in the way of refinement, as well as a huge latent demand from the Irish public. For the event to sell out, the first time that has happened in the history of the European Tour, I think that really helped to give people confidence that this was a viable and exciting potential Open venue.”
With the decision made, Ebert was able to press ahead with his changes to make the course a truly worthy test for the very best players in the game. An Emergency General Meeting of the club’s membership was called that summer to get their approval on the Ebert’s proposed alterations to the club’s Dunluce Links.
They were told of plans to add two new holes – a par-5 and a par-4 – on the dunes occupied by the old fifth and sixth holes on the Valley Course at the expense of the existing 17th and 18th holes on the Dunluce, which will be used for the tented village and infrastructure in 2019.
In short, Ebert’s proposal was to play the Dunluce as normal for the first six holes, incorporating the new holes as the seventh and eighth, before returning to the original routing, making the old seventh the new ninth and so on, with the round finishing at the old 16th.
Other proposed changes included new tees on six holes; the pushing back of the second green to increase the overall length of the course from 7,187 yards to 7,337 yards; the rebuilding of the third green; the reshaping and rebuild of the eighth green; and the addition of five new bunkers increasing the overall total to 64 – still comfortably the fewest of any course on the Open Rota.
The proposals were ambitious but it’s testament to Ebert’s ability to sympathetically fuse the past with the present that those proposals were ratified without objection.
“The pressure was certainly on to deliver on a number of fronts,” says Ebert.
“First of all, I was very aware that I was proposing changes to a Harry Colt masterpiece and a course that has been routinely and deservingly celebrated throughout the years. Bernard Darwin once wrote that, in Portrush, Colt had ‘built himself a monument more enduring than brass’, so I was mindful of its reputation.
“I also knew that I’d had to convince the membership that this wasn’t revolution so much as evolution. Using historical records, I was able to show them how the course had changed over time – for example, the old 18th used to be the second with the clubhouse located back in the town – so it wasn’t as though changes to the course were unprecedented.
“That research was invaluable to helping me prove that these changes would lead to improvements and the ultimate prize of staging The Open. From what I gather, they are more than happy with what has been done.”
Arguably the club’s most high-profile member – former Open champion Darren Clarke – certainly is. “I think Martin Ebert has done an unbelievably good job,” said the former Ryder Cup captain during the work. “It has been really exciting to see it transform from paper onto the course.”
Much of the credit for that, insists Ebert, should go to 1st Golf Construction, the contractors responsible for the building and shaping work.
“They really are pioneers,” he says. “What they do, in terms of putting in holes that are mature almost as soon as they are laid, is just incredible.
“The work that has gone on to have The Open here really is quite extraordinary. There is still a little bit of work to complete in terms of spectator routes and paths but all of the course work is done. It has been intensive and challenging – not least because of the natural topography of Royal Portrush – but I think the end result is really quite special.”
Ebert will get to see his vision in a competitive environment for the first time when Royal Portrush stages the Boys Amateur Championship in August.
“I’m actually going to be refereeing that week, so it will be very interesting,” he adds. “I guess in some ways it is being regarded as a little bit of a test event.”
The 148th Open will be the fourth successive year in which a course that Ebert has advised on will stage golf’s oldest and most prestigious championship. Each time, he insists, is special – but Royal Portrush promises to be perhaps a little bit even more so.
“I’ve been so lucky to work on some incredible projects,” he says. “Whenever an Open goes to a course where you’ve had some input, it’s incredibly rewarding but there’s really nothing that has been on this scale. I was fortunate that I was invited to work on the changes to the Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry around the same time as the changes were being made to Royal Portrush, but The Open obviously hasn’t returned to Turnberry since then, so it’s fair to say that I’m very excited to see how Royal Portrush plays and is received by the players and fans alike next year.
“It’s definitely right up there with the proudest moments in my career so far and to be there in 2019 will be a huge thrill. I really can’t wait.”
That, no doubt, is a sentiment shared by the world’s top golfers.
Royal Portrush made history in 2012 when it became the first European Tour event to sell out. The crowd of 112,000 over the four tournament days – 131,000 over the six days – set a new attendance record for the tour. It was also the only time a European Tour event had sold out prior to play on all four days. Over 4,000 people attended the opening practice round at the Dunluce Links while a crowd of 14,225 turned out for the Wednesday Pro-Am. Championship Director Antonia Beggs said that the event had “exceeded all expectations”. The current Open attendance record is 239,000, set at St Andrews in 2000. The 2015 Open, also at St Andrews, set the next highest total, with 237,000 turning out that week.
Herbert Gustavus Max Faulkner – ‘Max’ for short – was many things to many people.
To some, he was a brash eccentric, whose penchant for wearing bright clothing on the golf course was inspired by the fresh flowers that lit up the grey, miserable hospital ward where he spent time recovering from a perforated ear drum during World War 2.
To others, he was a bold innovator, widely acknowledged as one of the first golfers to treat physical fitness and diet as importantly as hitting balls on the range. It is said that he even spent one winter milking cows to strengthen his hands for the following season. He was a straight-talker, the owner of a collection of more than 300 putters (many made by him), and, of course, a prolific winner.
He has also been the answer to one of golf’s great quiz questions:
Who is the only golfer to have won The Open outside of England or Scotland? Faulkner’s victory at Royal Portrush in 1951 remains the only time a golfer has claimed golf’s oldest tournament outwith Great Britain.
Despite twice being an Irish Open runner-up at the same venue, Faulkner wasn’t one of the pre-event favourites. Rather, the man to beat was South African Bobby Locke, who was bidding to become only the fourth player to win The Open in three successive years.
Fred Daly, the 1947 ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’, was also heavily fancied, not least because he was born and raised in Portrush. Dick Burton also had experience of lifting the Claret Jug, whilst a young Australian by the name of Peter Thomson was being touted for a bright future in the game.
Even so, Faulkner came into the championship in good form and fresh from impressive finishes in his two previous Open appearances. He had shared the 54-hole lead at Royal St George’s in 1949 before a final round 74 dropped him into a share of sixth. He went one better the following year, finishing in a tie for fifth at Troon (N.B. it wouldn’t become ‘Royal Troon’ until the club’s centenary year in 1978).
An unfortunate date clash with the US PGA Championship at Oakmont resulted in a poor American turnout at Royal Portrush. Even so, the R&A put up a then record prize fund of £1,700, with the winner to pocket £300 (approximately £10,000 in today’s money).
Having successfully negotiated the 36-hole qualifier earlier in the week, Faulkner opened his title bid with a one-under 71 to sit three off the lead.
The second round saw Faulkner hit the front, a splendid 70 giving him a two-shot advantage over fellow Englishman Norman Sutton at the halfway stage.
The final two rounds were both scheduled for Friday, July 6: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. By lunchtime, Faulkner had one hand on the Claret Jug after a second successive 70 helped him establish a six-shot lead over his nearest challengers, Sutton and Argentine golfer Antonio Cerdá.
Rumour has it that, between rounds, Faulkner was signing an autograph for a young boy when the child’s father asked that he add the words: “Open Champion” because, as he put it, “You are going win, aren’t you?” True to form, Faulkner did as he as was asked.
Imagine the father’s horror, then, when Faulkner finished 5-5-4-5 to post his highest round of the week – a two-over 74. That allowed Cerdá, the only player still on the course with a legitimate chance of catching the long-time leader, the opportunity to draw level. He had gone out in 34 and arrived at the 16th needing to play the last three holes in 12 shots to force a plat-off. Alas, his challenge ended when his drive on the 16th ended up against some steps straddling a barbed wire fence and he made a six. He ultimately finished two shots behind Faulkner, who became the first Englishman to win The Open since Dick Burton in 1939 and the last until Tony Jacklin in 1969.
A renowned ball-striker, Faulkner’s victory owed as much to his dominance of the slick greens of Royal Portrush as it did his crisp iron play. Shortly before making the trip to Northern Ireland, he had acquired a new putter with a pencil-slim shaft and a steel head. He loved the club and, in turn, it loved him, particularly that week. Of the 285 shots he needed en route to victory, only 102 were putts – an average of 25.5 per round.
Some time later, he reflected on what the win meant to him. “It was all I ever wanted,” he said. “The Open meant everything to me. When I was handed the trophy, I looked at the names on it - Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Henry Cotton -- and thought: ‘Wow!’”
By his own admission, the victory also drained his competitive will.
He said: “I remember I had a putt at the second hole of the first round at Lytham the following year, from about four feet, which I missed. My immediate thought was: ‘That’s it, I’ll never win the Open again’.”
And he never did. The closest he came was 1957, when he finished in a tie for ninth at St Andrews.
However, his legacy endures. He won 16 times around Europe and featured on five Ryder Cup teams. He also set up one of the first coaching schemes for aspiring professionals and mentored the likes of Brian Barnes and Tommy Horton. His philanthropic work was tireless, too, raising huge sums of money for charity.
He returned to Royal Portrush in 1995, where he watched Barnes, by now his son-in-law, win the Senior British Open.
In 2001, Faulkner was recognised for his services to golf with an OBE. He passed away in February 2005 at the age of 88.
The official app of The Open (available on all smartphones) lets you keep up to date with the latest news surrounding the championship, including essential information for spectators during Open week. The app includes details on scoring, highlights, leaderboard, player profiles and a course guide. The R&A also encourage all fans to bring their own headphones in order to keep up with radio broadcasts so they don’t miss any of the action. A map of Royal Portrush will be available to download in due course and include the location of all available facilities, the course layout and the ‘Red Route’ for those who wish to follow play on the course.
The official open Accommodation Bureau manages the accommodation service for the week, offering tailored solutions to meet your needs. There is also the massively successful Open Campsite option. Youth Ticket holders (16-24 year old) are eligible to camp for free at The Open Camping Village. Juniors with valid U16s Kids go free tickets are also eligible to stay for free with an accompanying Adult Ticket holder. Adult Ticket holders can stay at the village from £40 per night. For full pricing for adults, please see the website (StayAtTheOpen.com) Due to popular demand, you’ll need to be quick with your reservation as spaces will fill in the run-up to the event.
The open is more than just the championship itself. It is an excellent day out for the whole family, so be sure to plan your day accordingly. The Spectator Village boasts large screens so you don’t miss any of the action, and the there food and beverage options around the village and out on the golf course. You can also book a free golf lesson if you come early and book a time in advance. Bring an umbrella and sunscreen, as the weather changes frequently. There’s plenty for kids to do, including the HSBC Golf Zone. There are bank machines inside the Spectator Village and you can also use the complimentary Left Luggage facility if you get carried away in The Open Shop.
Get a taste of the golf’s oldest major championship in style by experiencing hospitality at its finest. Packages for Royal Portrush 2019 will soon be on sale and give spectators the chance to see The Open live never before. Various packages will be on sale, giving you all kinds of exclusive access whether you’re with friends, family or with clients. Hospitality at The Open is like nothing else. The register your interest in package availability for 2019, call 01334 460010 or send an email to Hospitality@TheOpen.com.
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