Out of Bounds: The Irish Open is in a good place right now

Portstewart is likely to be host again whenever the tournament returns to the North

A little bit of perspective might be in order just about now, lest we all stumble over our own feet in the race for the door.

First things first: The Irish Open is in a good place right now, as vibrant a tournament as you're going to find on the European Tour.

And if the numbers who attended the event at Portstewart over the four tournament days was down on the average attendance of the previous five years, the fact remains that it is very much at the top of the regular tour events on the European Tour when it comes to the numbers who pass through the gates.

When all is said and done, that near-80,000 figure for Portstewart is not for scoffing

When all the number crunching was done on Sunday night, the attendance for the four days at Portstewart reached 79,856 - not counting children - which, by any sporting standard, is a good return.


Perspective? Last year’s Scottish Open - a tournament on a par with the Irish in terms of monetary clout - had a four-day attendance of 41,809. Another? The Nordea Masters in Sweden, another of those tournaments which is among the most supported, had 66,000 spectators.

So, when all is said and done, that near-80,000 figure for Portstewart is not for scoffing. Sure, it could have been bigger. But factor in the absence of poster boy Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell over the weekend after missed cuts, and the weather on Sunday when it rained for the majority of the round, and those mitigating reasons might account for why more attended on Saturday (23,208) than Sunday (20,096).

Will we be back to Portstewart? Absolutely. The decision to prioritise bringing the Irish Open to links courses, especially in its new date running up to the British Open as part of a so-called “Links Swing”, is a wise one. However, the informal rota that entails going North and South means more limited options in Northern Ireland than when the tournament is staged in the Republic.

In fact, Portstewart may be the only feasible option going forward whenever the tournament takes place in the North. Royal Portrush will play host to the British Open in 2019 and, as part of that extended rota, can look forward to further stagings of the oldest Major. As such, it is unlikely to be allowed play host to an Irish Open. And Royal County Down, although hosting the Irish Open in 2015, doesn’t seem to be on the radar for any immediate future stagings.

So, Portstewart it is likely to be whenever the tournament returns to the North.

When that will be is open to some conjecture. Next year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin in Co Donegal - actually the most northerly course on the island - will likely be followed by another staging in the South in 2019 so that it doesn’t impact in any way on Portrush’s day in the sun in playing host to the British Open.

The earliest it might go back North is 2020.

It could even be 2021.

But it will happen.

IRISH OPEN attendances (2011-2017)

2011 - Killarney: 85,179

2012 - Royal Portrush: 112,280

2013 - Carton House: 81,379

2014 - Fota Island: 97,889

2015 - Royal County Down: 95,667

2016 - The K Club: 75,861

2017 - Portstewart: 79,856