* Open last held outside England, Scotland in 1951
* Latest event for Northern Ireland after troubled past (adds quotes, details)
By Amanda Ferguson
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland, Oct 20 (Reuters) - The British Open will be held outside England and Scotland for the first time in more than 60 years when it returns to Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush in 2019, tournament organisers the Royal & Ancient (R&A) said on Tuesday.
The British Open championship was last held at the Northern Irish links course in 1951, the only other time the major championship was held anywhere but England and Scotland, and will be held there twice again over the following two decades.
The British Open will be latest in a series of high profile events to visit Northern Ireland, which was beset by three decades of violence that claimed 3,600 lives before a peace deal largely ended the bloodshed 17 years ago.
“One of the world’s biggest sporting events is coming to our little country,” Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke told Reuters at the announcement.
“Through our good times and bad times it is huge we’ve got the biggest golf tournament in the world. These pictures are going to go all over the world and showcasing Northern Ireland. The global and financial benefits are immeasurable.”
Once blacklisted next to Baghdad and Beirut as a tourism no-go zone, the British province successfully hosted the opening stages of the Giro d‘Italia last year as thousands long starved of major sporting events packed the streets.
Sporadic sectarian violence still persists in parts of Northern Ireland though and often breaks out when marches held by rival communities reach their peak in mid-July each year, potentially on the eve of the Open’s return on July 18-21, 2019.
The return to Royal Portrush, the hometown of major champion Graeme McDowell and which also counts 2011 British Open champion Clarke as a member, was announced last year but the date was subject to course improvements being made.
Two new holes are being added while the course length will increase by a little under 200 yards to 7,337 yards and the number of bunkers by three to 62, still the fewest of any of the courses which host the 155-year-old event, the R&A said.
“Royal Portrush is one of my favourite golf courses in the world. I think it will be a fantastic Open venue,” Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who lifted the Open winner’s Claret Jug in 2014, said in a statement. (Editing by Padraic Halpin/John O‘Brien)