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October 20, 2015

Darren Clarke

Martin Ebert

Arlene Foster

Martin McGuinness

Richard McLaughlin

Martin Slumbers

Peter Unsworth

MIKE WOODCOCK: Welcome to Royal Portrush Golf Club. My name is Mike Woodcock, and I'm the media manager of the R&A. I'd like to start this morning by introducing our panel. We have the acting First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster with us and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness; the club captain here at Royal Portrush, Sir Richard McLaughlin; Darren Clarke, the 2011 Champion Golfer of the Year and proud Royal Portrush member; and then we have Peter Unsworth, the chairman of the R&A's championship committee; and Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A. I'll start this morning by inviting Martin Slumbers to make an important announcement regarding The Open Championship.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Thank you, Mike. Acting First Minister, Deputy First Minister, Ministers, Sir Richard, Captain, Darren, English guests, ladies and gentlemen, it's an honour and privilege to be here in Northern Ireland today to make a historic announcement about the Open Championship. It was just over a year ago that we announced that we would once again be bringing The Open over the Irish Sea to this wonderful golf course and club.
We were aware at that time that there was huge interest in golf throughout Ireland, but I think even we were surprised at just how warmly the news was received.
Since then we've continued to be delighted by the passion and enthusiasm shown by the public, the media, and the golfing community for the much‑anticipated return of the championship for the first time since 1951, and as we all know, Max Faulkner lifted the Claret Jug and became Champion Golfer of the Year.
As we said at that time, there was a substantial amount of work required to prepare the course to host The Open, and accommodate the infrastructure required for a major championship.
Planning Commissions had to be secured, and approval had to be gained from the club's members to make the necessary changes to the historic Dunluce Links and the neighboring Valley Course. I'm pleased to say that all was achieved in good time, and I'd very much like to thank Sir Richard and the club for their enthusiasm and commitment to making this happen.
As well as the support of Royal Portrush, Darren and the leading Irish players, we also received tremendous backing from the Northern Ireland government and Tourism Northern Ireland. There's been a huge amount of planning and cooperation required to prepare for staging an event the scale of The Open, and we're extremely grateful for the assistance we have received.
Acting First Minister and Deputy First Minister, thank you very much. I'll close by sharing the news that you're waiting to hear in that I'm delighted to announce that the 148th Open will be played at Royal Portrush from the 18th to the 21st July, 2019. I'm sure you're as thrilled as we are at the return of The Open to Northern Ireland, and we can now begin the countdown to what will be a wonderful festival of golf on one of sport's truly outstanding venues. Thank you.
MIKE WOODCOCK: I would like now to invite Darren Clarke to give his reaction to the news.
DARREN CLARKE: Thank you, Martin. Acting First Minister, Deputy First Minister, Mr.Captain of Portrush, Martin, I have locker No.141 downstairs, and in addition to Royal St.George's, I would love to have lock 148, but unfortunately my golf isn't quite good at the moment, but it's certainly going to be a very special occasion.
I think it would be very remiss of me not to mention four special people who have helped why we're all here today. Firstly, I'd have to say to our Acting First Minister, Arlene Foster. Without her support and everything she did to get the Irish Open up here, I don't think we'd be in this position today. To George O'Grady for his courage in moving the Irish Open to bring it back up north again, I think it's highlighted what a venue we have here in Royal Portrush, and how we accommodated the massive crowds we had, I think, convinced the R&A that we could host the championship.
To Wilma Erskine, wherever Wilma is sitting, we all know Wilma, she pulled everything together for the Irish Open, and I think we all know owe Wilma a huge debt of gratitude for where we are today.
Finally, Martin, to your predecessor, Peter Dawson, I'm glad he listened to all our pleas. We all did. I was speaking to him and would just subtly slip it in all the time and tell him it's good enough, it's good enough, and he listened. And Wilma was on the phone some and Rory would speak to him and Graeme would speak to him, so thank you very much for listening to us and for having us here.
I think the global impact and the financial benefits to Northern Ireland are somewhat immeasurable, but I know that what we've had in Ireland as a country, we've gone through some good times and bad times as we all know, but to have the biggest and best tournament in the world here in Northern Ireland is certainly a very, very proud moment for us all, and I think it can only showcase the beautiful part of the world that we have here.
I think, as was just shown there with the R&A, coming here is a huge step of trust to give it to Portrush, to bring it back here again from 1951, and I think, Martin Ebert, who will discuss the changes that he's doing to the golf course, is going to make an already fantastic golf course an even better one.
I think Harry Colt would be very proud of the changes that Martin is making, and I think when it comes to that final score on the Sunday afternoon, I think it's going to be very, very close to what Max Faulkner would have won it with on that Sunday in 1951, and I hope I'm a man of sport.
But I think there's no finer words in our sport than standing at the 18th green on a Sunday, and that will happen on July 21, 2019, than being called the Champion Golfer of the Year. I was fortunate to have that, and it's a moment that I'll forever treasure. To the R&A and everybody involved, our ministers, Northern Ireland, I'm certainly very proud, and on behalf of all the members of Royal Portrush, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity.
MIKE WOODCOCK: I'll now ask Acting First Minister Arlene Foster to say a few words.
HON. ARLENE FOSTER: Thank you very much. This is just a wonderful day for all of us here in Northern Ireland that some of us have been dreaming about for a number of years now, and so we're absolutely delighted with the announcement this morning that in July of 2019, The Open will take place here at Royal Portrush, and of course it is a long time since The Open was here. It's 1951. Apparently Martin was just one in 1951. I wasn't about in 1951.
This is huge news, not just for golf, not just for tourism, but for Northern Ireland, and I think it will really help with the civic pride here in Northern Ireland, and everybody in Northern Ireland will get behind this tournament. That's the benefit you have, Martin, of coming here to Northern Ireland.
We know that we can host major events. We have shown that over the past number of years, and the images that you will have, and you can see them this morning with our beautiful weather because we always know the sun shines in Northern Ireland, that we will have beautiful images right across the world going out from The Open Championship.
You're going to have over 200,000 spectators coming here to Royal Portrush, and I know that Wilma and all of the team here will be able to accommodate you because it will be a partnership. It will be a partnership between the local council, delighted to see the mayor here this morning, the between Rules Service, between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and all of our agencies who will work together to give you the tournament that you desire and that you want.
I do want to make a few thank‑yous. Of course I want to thank Royal Portrush, its members, Captain, of course Wilma for all of the hard work that has taken place over the past number of years. I want to thank the R&A, of course, for allowing us to host such a prestigious tournament here in Northern Ireland. I want to thank you, Martin, and of course your predecessor, as well, to Peter for all the work that he has put in in bringing this tournament back here to Northern Ireland. Of course I want to thank our wonderful, wonderful golfers for putting our wee country on the golfing map.
Particularly I want to thank Darren. Darren, you have been a real ambassador for Royal Portrush, and when you lifted that trophy back in 2011, all of a sudden Royal Portrush was on the agenda, and you have continued to push it up the agenda with the R&A, and I really do seriously want to thank you for all of your ambassadorial work that you have undertaken up here in Northern Ireland.
Now it's time for us to deliver for you, Martin, and we're looking forward to working with you in partnership to give you the tournament that you desire in 2019. Thank you.
MIKE WOODCOCK: I'll now ask Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to say a few words, as well.
HON. MARTIN McGUINNESS: Well, first of all, can I say I'm absolutely delighted to be here with Arlene and Martin Slumbers and Peter from the R&A and with Sir Richard and with Darren for this announcement of the biggest sporting tournament ever to be held on the island of Ireland in 2019. This is an amazing announcement, absolutely fantastic for all of us, and I think given the way in which what brings all of us together; we've seen the evidence of that over the last number of weeks with the success of the Northern Ireland soccer team. Hopefully the Republic will join them in the European Finals next year in France; the success of Michael Conlon becoming a world champion in boxing; and the way in which all the people of the island get behind our sporting icons is absolutely amazing.
The way in which all the people of Ireland got behind the rugby players, even though it wasn't to be in the end, but it was absolutely fantastic to see people from right across the island give them tremendous support during the World Cup.
And of course, this announcement will add to the argument that we are making both from our executive and the government in the south that the Rugby World Cup Finals should come to the island of Ireland in 2023.
So the announcement by the R&A is a tremendous vote of confidence in the transformation that has happened here politically and security‑wise over the course of the last 20 years.
We are a society looking to the future. We are a society who appreciates the importance of sporting tournaments coming here. Yes, for the value of sport and the ability of sport to bring people together, but also the ability for people to access sporting events and to see people here at the top of their game perform for all of us.
Just as importantly are the economic benefits for our community, and this is a tournament that could bring in, dare I say, something between potentially £70 million to £100 million for our local economy. And certainly as Arlene and I and Peter and many others on the Executive to build the tourism industry to well over a £1 billion pound industry by 2020. So I want to thank the R&A.
I want to thank the members of Royal Portrush for the way in which they seized this moment, seized this opportunity. But I want to pay particular thanks to Darren Clarke, to Graeme McDowell, to Rory McIlroy. I think we should also mention P√°draig Harrington because they're all major winners and people who have performed incredibly on the international stage. So their contribution isn't just to sport in contribution. These are all people who appreciate the importance of what has happened here over the course of the last 20 years, leading from conflict to peace.
They have made their contribution not just in the sport and code that they excel in, but they have also appreciated the way in which their reputations have assisted us within government to ensure that we continue to build a better future for all of the people that we represent.
So this is just a most wonderful, wonderful announcement, and I am very honoured to be a part of it. Thank you.
MIKE WOODCOCK: I'll now ask Richard McLaughlin to say a few words on behalf of Royal Portrush.
SIR RICHARD McLAUGHLIN: Acting First Minister, Deputy First Minister, officials of the Royal &Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, representatives of the media, members and distinguished guests, on behalf of Royal Portrush Golf Club, I offer you a very warm welcome to the club. You join us on this most auspicious day to receive news that our members have wished for for many years. It's the culmination of hard work by the club and the support given to it by the Royal & Ancient and the Northern Island Executive. Significant changes to the links are underway, and an explanation of these will be given to you by Mr.Ebert, who has masterminded the project to modify our courses to ensure that we shall present a fitting challenge to the world's greatest golfers who will play here in future years.
Our members are delighted with all that they have seen so far and have given this project their full support. We trust you will be equally impressed with what has been done here.
We wish to thank the representatives of the media for their attendance, and both the Executive and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club for the faith they have shown in the club to host the greatest golf tournament in the world.
In return, they have our assurance that Royal Portrush will do everything in its power to ensure the success of The Open Championship, and justify the faith that has been placed in us.
Thank you very much, and please join us on the course if that's appropriate or in the dining room after the conference. Thank you very much indeed, everyone.
MIKE WOODCOCK: I'm sure the media have plenty of questions to ask. Before we get to the question‑and‑answer session, I would just like to ask Peter Unsworth and Martin Ebert to say a few words regarding the course changes.
PETER UNSWORTH: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Today's announcement that the Open will be played here at Royal Portrush in 2019 represents a major milestone in the history of the championship. It will be only the second time in its more than 150‑year history that it's been played outside of Scotland and England. I think that is testimony not only to the quality of Royal Portrush as a golf course but also to the commitment shown by the club, its members, and the Northern Ireland government to bring The Open back here.
Since we made the initial announcement last year, a great deal of work has been done to get the course preparations underway. Martin Ebert will talk in more detail about this shortly, but I think it is important to highlight the detailed consideration and planning which has gone into making the enhancements to the course and to ensuring it stays to its true ethos of the architect Harry Colt's original design as possible.
I would like to acknowledge the splendid work being done by Martin and his colleagues and also Graeme Beatt and his greenkeeping team. I know Darren and many of his fellow Irish players are greatly impressed with the significant improvements that are being made to the links. There are many ingredients that go into making a great Open Championship venue. As well as being one of the world's finest links courses, it must have the space to accommodate the grandstands and infrastructure on‑site and then the ability to handle tens of thousands of spectators who will descent on the town throughout the week in terms of accommodation and the transport network. We are well on the way to ticking all these boxes here, and by 2019 I have absolutely no doubt that Royal Portrush will be fully prepared to host a fantastic championship. We look forward to welcoming you all then. I would now like to invite Martin Ebert to discuss the alterations being made to strengthen this golf course. Thank you.
MARTIN EBERT: Ladies and gentlemen, what a good news story, for Ireland and in particular Northern Ireland. As everyone knows, everyone loves Ireland. For Portrush, every golfer loves Portrush. For golf, The Open in the Emerald Isles, what a prospect that is. For the R&A, I think the popularity of The Open at Portrush will surely be second to none, and for Tourism Northern Ireland and Antrim, an incredible opportunity to showcase this beautiful coastline.
The Royal Portrush Golf Club, the feeling of excitement within this most hospitable club I think is absolutely tangible, and I have to say this is certainly a good news story from the likes of me and Mackenzie & Ebert. It's a great honour to be here today to explain the changes to the course at Dunluce that we're making at Royal Portrush.
For a start we're walking in the footsteps of Harry Colt. He designed or redesigned the golf course in 1932, so there's no finer pedigree than that. And also to be working in such wondrous dunelands is really the stuff of dreams for any golf course architect, so it's a real honour and a privilege to be addressing you today.
But with that honour and privilege also comes a significant responsibility, responsibilities of the members of Royal Portrush, the R&A, but also to this wonderful landscape that we have, and what a landscape that we are working with here. It's hard to argue that this will be the finest piece of links land which The Open Championship is played. No other venue I don't think has such pure links undulations throughout its 18 holes.
It's reputed to be the finest work of Harry Colt. Bernard Darwin, who was the great golf writer, he wrote that Harry Colt had built himself a monument more enduring than brass.
Now, we carried out a little research to see how the course had evolved through the years, and that has given us the confidence in making these proposals and this day actually being implemented. Now, when Peter Dawson and his team came over to look at the venue, they immediately said the only way we can really fit The Open in here is if we relinquish the 17th and 18th holes from the Dunluce course. That will house the spectator village, but it gave us this conundrum of where do we find the other two holes. They are to be found on the Valley Course, which in its own right is a wonderful golf course at Royal Portrush. Those holes have been finished and are looking very promising at growing in now. But really we had to make ourselves comfortable that changing such a great course that Harry Colt redesigned was in the best interest of Royal Portrush and the golf courses in particular.
Now, along with that historic evidence, which is all contained in the book that we've produced and also a long version of the video that we'll show in a moment, the project is also being carried out under strict ecological environmental controls. Before starting the work, we undertook surveys for birds, grasses, wildflowers, badgers, flowers and amphibians, not to mention the members.
These studies helped to shape our design proposal, and it's only right‑‑ we are working in a pristine environment, and it's only right that we respect that as much as possible. So we'll be lifting all of the ecologically valuable dune vegetation and replacing it in other areas to ensure none of it is lost. Normally golf course projects they require a lot of materials to be brought to the site, all the soil, all the sand, but here, no, everything is resourced from within the boundaries of the golf course.
And finally, to prove just how ecologically friendly we are, my transport is going to be a mountain bike throughout the course rather than the normal diesel‑guzzling Gators and utility vehicles.
But anyway, it really is an honour to be here. Time scale‑wise, the Valley Course works are almost complete, scheduled to open next May. The works within the existing Dunluce course will be completed over the next few months and will be fully playable next May.
The two tremendously exciting holes, the new ones, will be completed by next spring and will be brought into play in the spring of 2017. They'll be in good condition then, very good condition, and in championship condition in 2018, which will be well in time for The Open in '19.
Now I'd like to show you this video and say there's a longer version which will be on theopen.com website, but hopefully this will explain the key changes to the golf course. You might be hearing from Darren, as well. Thank you.
(Video shown.)
MIKE WOODCOCK: Thank you, everyone, for your attention to the opening remarks and presentation there. We are very pleased to open the floor to questions. If I can ask you to raise your hand, please, and we'll get a microphone to you.

Q. Darren, I'm just wondering, this is a course you know and love. How much input did you have in the changes that Martin is making?
DARREN CLARKE: Martin and I drove around the golf course was it late January? And he showed‑‑ pointed out where all the new bunkers were going, where thoughts were for moving greens and all the changes that he had made, and there was one or two that I wasn't quite sure about, but whenever Martin explained them a little bit more to me and the reasons why, I had to agree with him. He's much better at doing what he does than I am at doing what I'm doing. I had to respect his opinion, and I think what he's‑‑ the changes that he's come up with and proposed and are implementing will make this an even better golf course. It's some mean task as Martin has alluded to, to improve on an already brilliant golf course, but with the changes that he's doing, this is going to be one of the best Opens ever. This golf course, when we played the Irish Open here a few years ago, this was the most popular golf tournament on the European Tour, and by a long way. There's only one that's ever sold out in the history of the European Tour, and The Open Championship coming here on a new golf course is just going to highlight we are to have this golf course here.

Q. Having the royal ties to the palace is interesting. It's been many years since the Open has been rotating between English and Scottish clubs. How do you reckon at this early stage the new venue will fit into that rotation?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: We have 10 courses, 10 courses on the rota, and one of the most wonderful things about The Open Championship is that they're all different. They all look different. Their settings are different, but they all have one consistent thing, which is that they challenge the very best players in the world. I think this course with the changes that Martin is doing will be delightfully wild. It will be beautiful, and I think we'll have a great Open Championship.

Q. Martin, I see the new design measures 7,337. From a design perspective, how durable do you think that can be against technology and the changes that are almost inevitable?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think from a design perspective, I'll let Martin answer his side of things, but from a design perspective we really look at every hole and just see what the holes require to make them good, varied, balanced. Whatever it adds up to at the end of the day it adds up to, but there's no set figure in our eyes, and I think probably with Martin and the R&A, but certainly it's judging each hole on its merits and what it needs to provide a good varied test of The Open.
MARTIN EBERT: I think when you look at the design that's out there, one of the things that I really like and enjoy is the tee shots. They're really very demanding. So you can play it slightly fade and have a very difficult second shot. If you hit it a long way, you're going to have to work your way around some pretty nasty bunkers that are going to be in play, and then when you've done that, you've still got to hit to these greens which have got these beautiful humps and swales and roll‑offs, and I think it's 7,300 is quite a number to challenge the very best.

Q. Just wondering where The Open fits in with Royal Portrush in future stagings of the Irish Open and also future stagings of the Open Championship. Is there a plan to come back again in another eight or nine years after 2019?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I can't comment really about the Irish Open. But we'll be‑‑ we're looking forward to 2019 first. We're making sure that that works, and in between our other three Open Championships to make sure they're fantastic, as well. And I know, hopefully we'll make sure that the best way to get The Open to come back here after 2019 is making (inaudible).

Q. Martin, can you speak to how important the pleas were that Darren mentioned from the likes of the players getting you to bring it back here, and also any of the infrastructure difficulties that you've had to overcome?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, the most important piece of it was actually getting the infrastructure right. The Open Championship is a huge venture. It requires not just the golf course, but it requires an infrastructure on the golf course to be able to put facilities to look after what I now know is going to be over 200,000 spectators, and to give them a good time in being able to watch it. So the infrastructure was the most important piece of it. And all the work that's been going on over the last two years and the changes to the course, particularly at 17 and 18, if we hadn't able to do that, we wouldn't have had enough space here to host a modern Open Championship.
If it was helpful and it was well‑meaning and there was quite a lot of pushing from the Irish players.
MIKE WOODCOCK: We'll draw things to a close. I'd like to thank you for your attention this morning and we're going to close with a short video to whet your appetite for 2019.

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