Open threat to Turnberry owners

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THE Royal and Ancient yesterday warned Leisurecorp, the Dubai-based owners of Turnberry, that holding annual stagings of a European Tour event on the Ailsa may deter the organisers of the Open from retaining the Ayrshire links as part of the championship rota.

At a press briefing to discuss the return of the oldest major to Turnberry next summer for the first time since 1994, David Hill, the R&A's director of championships, made it clear the obligations attached to being one of the nine venues which host events for the club over a ten-year cycle would make it impossible for the Ailsa to also become a permanent home for the European Open.

Asked if Turnberry putting on a European Tour event would deter the R&A from going back to the Ailsa after 2009, Hill replied: "It might. I don't think it would be ideal from an Open championship point of view if there was a European Open here every year for the next nine years.

"That isn't to say the European Open couldn't come here occasionally. But that's very much up to the Dubai team. I would say the same thing of any of our Open venues. The exception is St Andrews, because the home of golf is unique.The Dunhill is held over three courses and comes right at the end of the season.

"If you look at all our other venues, their philosophy seems to be that we have the Open, which gives us lots of marketing kudos. They will enjoy, as part of their relationship with the R&A, hosting the Amateur, the Senior Open and the Ladies Open from time to time. Already those clubs are hosting quite a lot of events. All I'm saying is Turnberry would have to give quite a lot of consideration if they want to have the European Open on their course as an annual event.

"They should be aware if they did that, then they probably wouldn't get a Senior Open, the Amateur or a Ladies Championship. And, therefore, a question mark (over] an Open championship. But I'm absolutely certain the owners of the hotel will be thinking about this carefully. If they have the European Open, or any other event, from time to time, we're not going to say 'no'."

Although Turnberry has only staged three previous Opens, the Ayrshire hotel has hosted 16 R&A events since 1961, including four Amateurs, six Senior Opens and the Walker Cup.

Last month, when Leisurecorp launched the Race to Dubai at Turnberry, David Spencer, the golf chief executive for the Gulf-owned company which completed the purchase of the resort for 55 million on Saturday, indicated consideration was being given to staging the European Open on the links, though not before the 2010 season. "From our point of view, the more often Turnberry can be exposed to the golfing public outside of Scotland in Europe, Asia and the US, the better for golf in Scotland," he said.

"We want to have more regular events at Turnberry. The more we test the course, the more it will develop as a championship venue. I think the European Open is a transportable event but it could also have a (permanent] home. And Turnberry would be a likely candidate for a home venue. When you look at the investment we're making, after doing all that work (on the Ailsa], if we decide to bring the European Open here, a lot of that would be driven by the players, because they love playing here."

While Spencer's wish to bring more events to Turnberry was clear, Stewart Selbie, the general manager of the hotel, explained that a strategy for developing the business as a tournament home has yet to be finalised.

Asked if the Open would remain the centrepiece of Turnberry's future plans, Selbie said: "Absolutely. It's a bit early to say what the long-term thinking will be because the owners only took over the property on Saturday. But they fully recognise the importance of the Open. I'm pretty confident they wouldn't wish, in any way, to jeopardise that. We have more than one course at Turnberry and it's possible the European Open might not be held on the Ailsa.

"The return of the Open means an awful lot to Turnberry. I've always associated the links and the hotel with the Open."

Hill added: "It's something we need to talk about. I can't say anything too much about it publicly, because the issue was only raised two weeks ago. What I am prepared to say is the committee would be concerned if another event was to come here on an annual basis.

"The authorities in England are all over us nowadays and want to pay us to go there. The world has changed.

"When the Open is in Scotland, we don't go cap in hand asking the government to contribute. Kent council (for example] would pay handsomely to have the Open every five years at Royal St George's. In England, the local authorities cover our capital expenditure costs as a goodwill gesture."

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