Rory McIlroy has revealed the R&A is “seriously looking” at making Portmarnock the first course outside of the UK to host The Open Championship.
The world No 2’s influence helped to secure Royal Portrush, the Northern Irish links, its first Open in 68 years in 2019 and McIlroy believes the famous Dublin layout can be as much of a success.
“I think they are seriously looking at it and it would be fantastic,” McIlroy said, after his opening 69 left him four off Shubhankar Sharma’s lead at the Irish Open at the K Club.
“I was looking forward to Portrush but concerned in terms of how it would do commercially; there’s so many other considerations to hosting a major championship apart from it being a great golf course.
“There has to be a lot of stuff that makes sense, but having a course that’s so close to a major city, so close to a major airport, having a great golf course… I honestly think it would be amazing.”
The R&A declined to comment when approached by Telegraph Sport, but that is not necessarily a negative for the 129-year-old links perched on the sandy peninsula, in the village 10 miles north the Republic of Ireland capital.
And neither is the fact that last year, Martin Slumbers, the R&A chief executive, declared: “It’s a great course but are we considering it for The Open? No, not at this time.”
This could be the R&A playing from the same iongbook as Portrush. In 2012, Slumbers’ predecessor, Peter Dawson was adamant that the Ulster gem could not stage the major because of the problems of infrastructure - the same reason proffered in 2022 by Slumbers.
“There would be much work to do for an Open to go to Portrush,” Dawson said. Seven years later, Shane Lowry was on the 18th in Co. Antrim lifting the Claret Jug in front of the Open’s second-ever biggest crowd.
Changes to the layout, Government investment from Stormont and pressure from local major-winners McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke helped alter the R&A’s thinking and commercially it was such a triumph the championship will return in two years’ time.
That gave Portmarnock hope, as did the recommendation from Tiger Woods. “It is one of the most enjoyable links I have had an opportunity to play”, he said.
Certainly, the geography would not dissuade the St Andrews governing body. The R&A’s insistence that its tournament is called “The Open” and not “The British Open” is not just a pointer to it being the eldest of the four majors.
The Walker Cup was played at Portmarnock in 1991 and the R&A revisited with the Amateur Championship four years ago. But by that stage it was ineligible to host the Open. In 2016 the R&A decided that any club not allowing female members would be excluded from its major roster.
However, the Dublin links belligerently stuck to the rule that stated “the club shall consist of members and associate members who shall be gentlemen properly elected”. After a vote in 2021, the men-only status was banished, although it took until last December for the membership to elect its first female members.
The path is obviously now clear and McIlroy’s claims will inevitably raise expectancy to frenzied levels. Paul McGinley, the Dubliner who captained the victorious 2014 Europe Ryder Cup team, is also hopeful.
“‘Seriously considering’ might be too strong a term as there are a lot of logistical issues – it’s only got one road in and out at the moment and a lot of the spare land is protected,” he told Telegraph Sport. “But you never know as it ticks a lot of boxes, particularly commercially being in a capital city.”
The next free date for the Open is in 2027, but Portmarnock would likely have to wait, at the very least, until the early years of the next decade. Another links analysing the scenario with interest is Royal Porthcawl, the South Wales layout, which has also been dismissed as not having the wherewithal to host the Championship.