PINEHURST, N.C. -- It's finally going to happen. After years of speculation and almost seven decades on from its only previous visit for Max Faulkner's victory in 1951, the British Open is to return to Northern Ireland's Royal Portrush in 2019. While a formal announcement has yet to be made, a source close to the County Antrim club has told GolfDigest.com that a press conference has been scheduled for later this month.
Editors' Note: The R&A announced Thursday it would be holding a press conference June 16 at Royal Portrush.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the same source revealed that the game's oldest major is also guaranteed to make two further excursions to Northern Ireland in years yet to be determined. And, as part of what has been a long rumored move, two new holes designed by architect Martin Hawtree will be inserted midway through the current front-nine. These will replace the present -- and relatively disappointing -- 17th and 18th, on which the championship's extensive "tented village," will be erected.
The Open's traditional dates have always been seen as a problem, the third week in July being uncomfortably close to Northern Ireland's notorious, politically sensitive and religiously-charged "marching season" that has so often descended into scenes of sectarian violence. Then there were doubts over economically depressed Ireland's ability to provide enough in the way of corporate backing for an event of this magnitude.
On the other hand, when the Irish Open returned to Portrush for the first time since 1947 in 2012, vast golf-savvy crowds turned out to see Welshman Jamie Donaldson claim the title. Throw in the presence of three recent major homegrown major champions in Darren Clarke (a Portrush resident), Graeme McDowell (a Portrush native) and Rory McIlroy and the enthusiasm of the Irish nation can surely be taken for granted.
As is often said, and meant as a compliment, "the Irish will show up to watch the grass grow." Soon, it would seem, they will able to do so under the feet of golf's greatest players as they compete in the game's oldest and most important championship.