‘Unthinkable’ to drop Turnberry from Open rota

PETER Dawson has scotched rumours that Turnberry is being dropped from the Open Championship rota following its purchase by Donald Trump, insisting it was “unthinkable” that the Ayrshire venue wouldn’t host the event again.

Rory McIlroy (L) celebrates winning a bet against Darren Clarke at Royal Liverpool yesterday. Picture: Getty

Following the R&A’s decision to welcome Royal Portrush to host the game’s oldest major for the first time since 1951, coupled with the announcement that Royal Birkdale and Carnoustie will host the event in 2017 and 2018 respectively, fears have been expressed over Turnberry’s place on the rota.

It last staged the Claret Jug joust in 2009, when Tom Watson came agonisingly close to chalking up a sixth success in the event at the age of 59, and, based on a ten-year cycle for courses other than St Andrews, it would have been in line to welcome the world’s top players back in 2019.

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That appears to be the slot made available to Royal Portrush, though, and with its re-emergence coming so soon after Trump added Turnberry to his portfolio, as well as the fact attendances there are the lowest of all the courses, concern has started grow about the picturesque venue’s Open Championship.

Speaking on the eve of the tournament’s 143rd staging at Royal Liverpool, however, Dawson insisted Turnberry is still in the R&A’s plans, admitting there would be outcry from players if it was dropped from the rota.

“It is very popular with the players and has provided a huge amount of drama in the past,” the R&A chief executive told The Scotsman. “It is unthinkable that it wouldn’t be an Open venue.”

Earlier this month, during a first visit to the resort since his purchase of it had been rubber-stamped, Trump revealed the initial phase of proposed changes to the Ailsa Course, where Watson and Jack Nicklaus fought out their famous “Duel in the Sun” in 1977. Starting immediately after the Women’s British Open in just over a year’s time, it will involve work on both the tenth and 11th, the gist of which is to move them closer to the rocks.

“We have talked about these changes for a number of years, to be fair,” replied Dawson to being asked about them. The tenth and 11th in particular are two holes that have been looked at.

“If we’d been able to get the par-3 11th more into the rocks from a forward tee that would have allowed the tenth green to go back towards the coast where the 11th tee is now. That
would be a great change.

“That’s not new and Martin Ebert, who has done a lot of work with us, including Turnberry, has been party to that. Donald has now engaged Martin to do the work.

“They are thinking about other things, I understand, and the detail for that is far from complete. I believe that includes the ninth and they have assured us that we will be consulted in due course.

“It would be wrong to say we are working together because we are not yet. We know he is doing it and we know some of what he is planning.

“We are not sitting having meetings with him day in, day out, but he will come and consult us when he’s good and ready and that’s fine.

“But Martin Ebert, who we know very well (he’s a member of the R&A Championship Committee), is keeping us abreast of what is being thought about.”

Meanwhile, a meeting next week will determine whether the R&A’s vote on allowing women members – due to take place on 18 September, when there will be an announcement of the result – can be a postal ballot.

“The actual voting process has not quite been finalised,” reported Dawson. “It is clear that the majority of R&A members feel that postal voting would be appropriate in this case. [But] the rules of the club do not cater for postal voting and, therefore, those rules would have to be changed.

“A business meeting in St Andrews next week will determine that. If they are changed, there will be a postal ballot on this issue.

“If not, it will go to the business meeting as normal in September.”

A postal ballot would open the process up to the R&A’s 2,500 worldwide members, whereas the business meeting normally only attracts between 200-300 attendees.