As Northern Ireland savours the prospect of the Open Championship returning to Royal Portrush in 2019 after a gap of 68 years, a bucketful of cold water has been poured on the possibility of Wales being added to the rota for the game’s oldest major.
Hopes of Royal Porthcawl becoming the first venue in the Principality to host the event were high around two years ago after the Welsh government indicated work to provide the necessary infrastructure could be carried out.
On the back of that, R&A officials visited the course to assess its overall suitability, with five-times winner Tom Watson saying he felt Royal Porthcawl could stage the event after the American played there for the first time in the 2014 Senior Open Championship, won so impressively by Bernhard Langer on a fast-running course.
However, it now seems that the door has been slammed shut on the south Wales venue after Martin Slumbers, the new R&A chief executive, revealed there are no plans to add any further courses to the rota, the addition of Royal Portrush having increased the number on that to ten.
“We are quite happy with ten venues at the moment – that’s all we are looking at,” insisted Slumbers as he faced the golfing scribes for the first time since taking over the reins from Peter Dawson following his retirement last month. “This (Royal Portrush being restored) was the big decision and there are no discussions going on about any other course.”
Asked if that would be disappointing news for Welsh golf fans, he added: “Porthcawl had a wonderful Seniors Open last year and it was a great pleasure to see that course. But we’ve got ten at the moment and we’re focusing on those ten. We are not looking at any other course anywhere for the Open.”
Venues for the next four Claret Jug jousts have now been confirmed, with Royal Portrush following Royal Troon (2016), Royal Birkdale (2017) and Carnoustie (2018). The next announcement by the R&A regarding its flagship event is likely to be a double one about the 2020 and 2021 venues.
St Andrews is almost certain to come out of its five-year cycle to fill the 2021 slot, as it will be the event’s 150th staging and the home of golf seems the rightful place for that occasion to be celebrated. Either Turnberry or Royal St George’s look likely to come after the visit across the Irish Sea.
“I think it’s important not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but a lot of our venues are members’ clubs and each course likes about three to four years’ notice as it’s quite an imposition having an Open,” said Slumbers.
“We’ve announced up to 2019 and, in the next year or so, we will come up with 2020 and 2021. St Andrews becoming every five years is relatively modern history, and I don’t think that our hands are tied to stick to that.”
In his short time at the helm, Slumbers, who shadowed his predecessor for six months, has not only hosted a press conference to announce the staging of what will be only the second Open Championship outside Scotland and England but also dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s in two television deals for the event, one by which Sky Sports will take over as the host broadcaster a year early next July after the BBC asked for its contract to be torn up.
“As Peter said, there’s always things to do and the agenda is pretty full, believe me,” said Slumbers, laughing. “It’s been a busy number of weeks, but it will be a busier few years.” The former investment banker reiterated the R&A’s “disappointment” about the BBC asking to end their contract early but said that Sky Sports had stepped in with “great gusto”.
He added: “We are delighted to be working with them. We’ve got our team at Troon at the moment actually working with brand-new people, looking at where to put the TV cameras. I’ll keep quiet about what we are going to do, but you’ll find that some of the pictures next year will be very exciting.”
Slumbers also said he was “very pleased” with how the R&A’s first batch of women members had been welcomed into the club. “We had our Autumn Meeting recently, and our new women members played in that,” he reported, before delivering an update about ongoing talks with the Ladies’ Golf Union about a possible merger.
“They are progressing very well,” added Slumbers. “We’ve had a lot of discussions over the last few weeks, I’m meeting with them soon and hopefully we will get that to a conclusion. But I’ve done a lot of mergers in my time and it’s better to get it right than putting on timescales.”