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N. Ireland Open calls rise

SANDWICH, England – Darren Clarke’s victory has added fresh momentum to calls for the British Open to be staged in Northern Ireland after the country clinched its third Major in just over a year.

Clarke’s memorable three-stroke win at Royal St George’s on Sunday saw the popular 42-year-old join Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell as players from Northern Ireland who have won Majors in the last 13 months.

The remarkable sequence of victories by the Northern Irish trio has led to calls for the Open to be held at Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951.

Royal and Ancient Club chief executive Peter Dawson admitted on Monday that the calls to reward the success of Clarke, McIlroy and McDowell by staging the event at Portrush had been given fresh momentum.

“I think we’re all very aware of the fact that three winners from Northern Ireland increases the interest level in this,” Dawson said.

R&A officials have previously questioned whether Portrush has sufficient infrastructure to cope with the tournament, which attracts tens of thousands of fans over several days.

But Dawson was unable to pinpoint Portrush’s exact shortcomings when asked to do so on Monday. “I don’t know yet until we’ve had another look at it, to be honest,” he said.

“The usual mixture of a great course and plenty of infrastructure, combined with a prospect of commercial success, is what’s needed.

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“No doubt about the golf course at Portrush, although there might be one or two things one would do, but the other two are what we have to look at.

“I don’t want to start a hare running on this, other than we are going to take a closer look.”

Dawson also warned the political situation in Northern Ireland could potentially be an issue after violence erupted in the region last week.

“Things seem to be getting an awful lot better, but I have been reading of some difficulty in the papers lately,” added Dawson.

“I have no idea how exaggerated or otherwise those are. It’ll be one of the things we take into account, although I don’t think it’s right at the forefront of our mind.”

Unsurprisingly, Clarke would be keen to see the Open staged in Portrush for sentimental reasons but was realistic about the challenges which would be posed by a decision to hold the tournament there.

“At the moment they (the R&A) can’t see a way of having it there, so it’s very tough,” he said.

“I wish there was some way around it and I hope at some stage in the future they will find a way around it because the golf course is every bit as good as any of the Open venues.

“It’s good enough to be in the Open rota. Hopefully they will figure a way around the logistics if they possibly can.”

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Portrush’s hosting of the Open 60 years ago was one the only time golf’s oldest and most revered tournament was held outside of the British mainland.

Since then, the tournament has been shared between top links courses in England and Scotland with the current rotation involving nine layouts.

Currently, the schedule for the British Open sees it return to Royal Lytham in northwest England in 2012 before going to Muirfield in Scotland in 2013 and then onto Hoylake’s Royal Liverpool in 2014.

Meanwhile Dawson was reluctant to draw too many conclusions from Northern Ireland’s remarkable run of success.

“I think these things go in cycles, and Ireland clearly has had some very, very talented players recently,” he said.

“I think if you examine them, they’ve all come through slightly different routes probably to get to where they are, so you can’t put your finger on one particular method. But each of them has talent and application, and those are the essential ingredients.”

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