Royal Portrush’s manager to retire this autumn

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 15, 2019 10:16

The secretary-manager of Royal Portrush, host of the 2019 Open Championship, will retire this autumn after managing the club for an incredible 35 years.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Wilma Erskine has been talking about the club and how her role has changed since 1984.

Explaining why Darren Clarke refers to her as ‘The Boss’, Erskine said: “It’s because tradesmen have come to the club, seen the ‘secretary’ bit in the title, not understood what that role means in golf, thought of secretaries as female and innocently said, ‘Can I see the boss, please?’ So my stock reply has become, ‘Hey, you’re looking at her – I am the boss.’ ”

She added: “I was looking at the diary in 1985 and there was one American three-ball who played here in the whole year. We were so excited, we put a big circle around their names and marked it ‘USA’. The Troubles were still going on then and nobody wanted to visit. There was also an economic downturn and, to be frank, the course was a bit of a mess.

“We took about £36,000 in green fees that year; last year we took £2.2 million, with a £5 million turnover. Now when Americans call for tee-times, they don’t ask which day they can play, but which year. And, of course, after the Open there will only be more clamour.”

She also talked about an anecdote involving Rory McIlroy. “It was a couple of years ago and my assistant kept telling me, there’s this chap who keeps ringing asking for you to fix up a tee-time,” she recalls.

“Eventually he caught me when I was in the office and a voice said, ‘Hi, Wilma, it’s Rory, is it OK if I come and play the course?’ I replied, ‘Rory, you’re an honorary member, a four-time major champion, the course record holder, you really don’t have to ask permission.’

“‘But I remember you once told me to always be courteous and when I wanted to play any course to always ring ahead,’ Rory told me. To which I replied, ‘Yes, but you were 14 at the time.’ ”

When she was told that George O’Grady, the former European Tour chief executive, said that the club would not be hosting the Open if it wasn’t for her, she said: “Let’s just say that when I get hold of something I don’t like to let it go. And when we’d say, ‘We want the Open,’ our tongues would be slightly in cheek. But then, all these thing started coming together.

“The end of the Troubles, the economic uplift, all of our boys winning majors… Graeme [McDowell] and Darren are both Portrush lads, while Rory is our nation’s superstar – they’d put Northern Irish golf back on the map.

“We’d had the Amateur Championship in 1993, for the first time in 33 years, and then a few Senior Opens, so the course was being seen on TVs around the world. George, himself, has family connections at Portrush and gave us the 2012 Irish Open for the first time in 65 years and, despite the weather being awful, we showed we could stage a big event. The momentum was with us, although when Peter Dawson [the former R&A chief executive] and his team told us we would need two new holes to make space to accommodate the infrastructure, we did almost baulk.

“Yet the club committees have always been great, we created the new seventh and eighth, which are magnificent. With the finance, the government played its part. There has been £17 million spent on the town – a new station, and if it stands still it has been painted. Portrush has never looked better and with the guarantee of at least two more Opens, this will go on and on.

“It’s what it will mean afterwards – to the members, the club, the town, the coastline and the country. And to have played my wee part has been a privilege.”

 

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 15, 2019 10:16
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7 Comments

  1. Seamus July 11, 12:12

    Remarkable woman who will be sorely missed

    Reply to this comment
  2. Gavin July 11, 13:52

    Great insight into the changes made to Royal Portrush over the years and Northern Ireland in general to transform it from its troubled past into what it is today, a world class golfing destination. Hats off to all involved!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Neil July 14, 07:14

    A privilege to know her, and call her Wilma

    Reply to this comment
  4. Graham July 14, 13:02

    Going out on the crest of a wave. Congratulations

    Reply to this comment
  5. Barry July 15, 06:16

    A real ‘LADY’ and privilege to know. Good Luck for the week ahead

    Reply to this comment
  6. Wayne July 15, 11:45

    Congratulations to Wilma. Royal Portrush has gone a long way and with the two new holes and hosting the Open Championship it will become even more popular. Nice anecdote about Rory’s phone call.

    Reply to this comment
  7. John July 15, 11:47

    A great ambassador for Royal Portrush

    Reply to this comment
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