The Open Championship’s return to Royal Portrush after a 68-year hiatus in 2019 will go down as one of the all-time great Opens, and not just because it delivered a fairytale win for Shane Lowry.
For too long, the tournament dubbed the British Open had been monopolised by English and Scottish venues, when the islands of Britain and Ireland collectively contain some of the finest golfing terrain in existence, not to mention an unrivalled sense of history in the game.
But as excited as I am about the return in 2025, if I was Welsh, I’d be feeling a little hard done by as I watch Northern Ireland get its second Open in six years when the world’s oldest championship has never once been staged in the land of St. David.
Okay, there’s a natural hindrance there. Wales has by far the smallest coastline of Britain and Ireland – less coastline means less links golf courses – and as we all know, The Open Championship must be held on a links course. The Senior Open may have flirted with sacrilege by visiting Gleneagles last year and Sunningdale the year before, but were the Open proper to move inland, golfing fans worldwide would surely revolt.
But this year’s Senior Open was back at a pure links venue as it made its third visit to Royal Porthcawl, the premier course in Wales, and what a tournament it was. There are many adjectives to describe the weekend weather and most start with the letter ‘H’. Horrible, horrific, horrendous, heinous, hazardous, all of these work, and as much as I’d detest playing in it, it was absolute box office television viewing.
However, even though Royal Porthcawl’s setting makes it particularly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, the wind can’t be guaranteed and the rain even less so. In fact, in all the years I’ve been watching Open Championships, I’d struggle to recall a day quite like Sunday, but the golf course itself was a big winner throughout and there was more than a little part of me yearning to see the real cream of the world golfing crop tee it up there in search of the Claret Jug.
We’ll get to see the stars of the women’s game play here in the Women’s British in 2025, but, and at the risk of sounding sexist, the Open Championship is the one they’d really love to host.
Okay, so why couldn’t they? Well, there’s several arguments against, and the most pertinent one is infrastructure and logistics. The venue, the R&A contend, doesn’t have the capability to hold 50,000 spectators a day, the grandstands, and the various tents for scoring, food, beverage and corporate hospitality.
And to be fair, it doesn’t. But it’s not impossible. There are several fields surrounding the course that could potentially be leased and used for temporary infrastructure, and though the damage to agricultural land would of the course be extensive, for a handsome enough fee I’m sure the Welsh farmers could be convinced to part with their property for a year or so, particularly when considering the boost the entire local economy would receive on the back of an Open Championship.
Ideal? No, but possible? I think so.
Accommodation would be another concern, but Cardiff is only 30 miles away and there’d be no shortage of local residents willing to rent out their homes for a week and take a free holiday.
Then there’s the fears that the course may not be long enough for the top pros in the men’s game. And it’s a fair argument as well. At present, it’s probably not. 7,137 yards off the back tees, even changed to a par-70, that would be short by modern standards. But the R&A have already stated their intentions to introduce the Model Local Rule that would see a reduced-flight ball brought in.
If it amounted to even a 5% reduction in the distance a ball travels, then we’re looking at a comparative 7,500-yard course. For comparison, last year the Old Course at St. Andrews measured 7,313 yards and played to a par of 72.
So, providing they follow through on intention, the length is the easy solution. The infrastructure and logistics remain the problem. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Money, as the saying goes, is the answer to every problem.
But money is something that the R&A value extremely highly when it comes to the Open Championship. After all, the only major not to be held in 2020 was the world’s oldest tournament. The idea of no crowds (and no ticket revenue) wasn’t one they were willing to stomach, and it’s not surprise that Muirfield, which attracted the lowest attendance in recent history in 2013, won’t see the tournament return until 2027 at the earliest.
Three Senior Opens and now a Women’s British may be indicators that the R&A are sussing out Royal Porthcawl for a showpiece event in the near future, or it may be a consolation prize for a snub lasting more than a century-and-a-half.
My money is on the latter.