Royal Portrush / Image from Getty Images
R&A CEO Martin Slumbers is confident that this year’s historic ‘blank canvas’ Royal Portrush host course will allow the organizing body to create an Open Championship masterpiece.
Golf’s oldest Major is heading in July to the Co. Antrim course for a first occasion since 1951, with the four championship days long ago a sell-out and seventy percent of the tickets are safely tucked away in Irish homes too.
Slumbers and his R&A team played Royal Portrush a few weeks ago and while facing strong winds and heavy rain, it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of he and his St. Andrews-based colleagues.
And now, with some four months remaining to the first tee shot announcement, Slumbers was asked his thoughts in hosting the 148th Open.
“Well, someone said to me in Latin America, we were out there for the Latin American Amateur, are you looking forward to Portrush, you must be looking forward to Portrush,” said Slumbers.
“And I said, well, actually I’ll be quite pleased when it’s over (laughing).
“They said, why? And I replied, well, we’ve never done an Open where we have to get all our stuff across the sea. We’ve never done an Open in Portrush of the size that we do now, but the biggest thing is we’ve got a golf course that, off the tees that we will play The Open Championship, nobody has played them with a card in their hand.
“So, the course setup, which is at the end of the day my number one concern and my number one responsibility for The Open, is with a complete blank canvas.
“We have been doing lots of different preparation work to understand or begin to understand how the players will play Portrush. That’s all going into the computer banks.
“I will be back at Portrush next Tuesday, and will be there a lot with the team working on the golf course, working out how we think they’re going to play it.
“The golf course itself has come out of the winter, I got the agronomy report this morning, in very good condition. There’s about three fairways where divoting is a bit hard and the grass isn’t strong enough, but the greens are looking great.
“If we get a bit of dryness, it’s going to be a real handful, and it’s going to be an absolute delight to watch these guys play it.”
Slumbers had been at Royal Portrush some weeks back when Rory McIlroy played the course and where in 2005, as a then 17-year old he shot a course record 61 in a qualifying round for the North of Ireland amateur.
But with changes to the course, including a new par-5 seventh and a par-4 eighth hole, the Open Championship course record is there for the taking come July.
“Rory played both the seventh and eighth holes and he walked some of the others”, said Slumbers.
“His comment about No. 8 was that could have been there 100 years. I mean, it is a wonderful golf hole.
“At No. 7 which is a par‑5 Rory hit driver, 2‑iron, wedge into it, so it’s quite a golf hole. He liked it. Well, you saw his interview last week, he said that his real thing this year is Portrush.
“So, if some of the Irish boys play well, it’s going to be very noisy.
“And the thing is golfers have played it off the championship tees at Royal Portrush, but they haven’t done it with a competitive card in their hand. And we all know when you’ve got a card in your hand than when you’re having a bit of fun, you may hit different shots.”
There is just McIlroy and fellow Open winners Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke exempt into The Open at this point but we’ll be watching closely.