The Amateur will return to Portrush after a 20-year gap

THE R&A has insisted its decision to take the Amateur Championship back to Royal Portrush after a gap of 20 years is not part of a masterplan that could also see the Open Championship return to the Northern Ireland links.

Major successes by three Ulstermen – Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke – over the past two years have sparked calls for Royal Portrush to be restored to the rota for the world’s oldest major, having held the event for the one and only time in 1951, when Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug.

Having recently been named by the European Tour as the venue for this year’s Irish Open, the Co Antrim venue has now received a further boost, this time from the R&A, with the news that it will host the Amateur Championship in 2014.

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In a double announcement, Carnoustie was also named yesterday as the venue for the 2015 Amateur Championship, but it is the momentum starting to build at Royal Portrush that is sure to prove a major talking point in the game. It will be the third time the amateur game’s premier event has been staged there, Irish amateur legend Joe Carr claiming the crown in 1960 and, 33 years later, being emulated by Englishman Iain Pyman.

However, it has been claimed that the announcement is unconnected with any plans the R&A may have for the course as a potential future venue for the Open Championship, with the St Andrews-based organisation likely to learn more about Portrush, particularly in terms of infrastructure, from the big crowds certain to attend the Irish Open in June.

“The R&A knows Royal Portrush very well having taken amateur events there on a regular basis and as recently as last year [with the Senior Open Amateur Championship],” said a spokesman. “The Amateur in 2014 will present another opportunity to watch world-class golfers taken on the famous links.”

Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive, said recently that he had “enjoyed” a visit to Portrush last year, but insisted it was too early to say if the course could be seriously considered for a modern-day Open Championship.

“We will be very interested to see how the course copes commercially and in terms of spectator movement when the Irish Open is held there later this year,” he commented.

Qualifying for the 2014 Amateur Championship will be shared with nearby Portstewart, with Panmure doubling up with Carnoustie for that purpose when it stages the event for a fifth time the following year.

“The Amateur Championship has a proud tradition of being contested over the finest links courses in the British Isles,” said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the R&A’s newly appointed executive director of championships.

“I am delighted that the championship will be returning to two past venues that will offer Irish and Scottish golf fans the chance to watch some of the world’s best amateur golfers in action. Previous championships have seen some of golf’s greatest names, such as past champions Jose Maria Olazabal , Sergio Garcia and more recently Matteo Manassero, announce themselves on the world stage. I’m sure in 2014 and 2015 we will again see some future household names competing for the trophy.”

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Royal Portrush captain Philip Tweedie added: “We are absolutely delighted to once again host the Amateur Championship in 2014 and look forward to welcoming the world top amateurs.

“Since the event was last played at Royal Portrush in 1993, work has been carried out on the links with eight new tees constructed, now making the course 7,143 yards long, producing a good test for the competitors.”

Carnoustie’s last Amateur Championship – in 1992 – saw Cowglen’s Stephen Dundas become the first Scottish winner of the event since Reid Jack’s triumph at Formby 1957.

Dundas, now a club professional based in Russia, beat Welshman Bradley Dredge in the final as the event was staged at the Angus venue for the first time in more than 20 years, having earlier hosted it 1947, 1966 and 1971.

“The Amateur Championship remains one of the world’s foremost amateur events and it is a great honour for Carnoustie to be asked to host it in 2015,” said Graeme Duncan, general manager at Carnoustie Golf Links.

“It is always a pleasure to work with the R&A in preparing for a tournament.”