Solheim Cup spares no expense -- but punters fail to do likewise
ORGANISERS of the most anticipated event in women's golfing in Ireland this year may have sold a third less tickets than anticipated -- but they are insisting the Solheim Cup will generate €30m for the local economy.
When Europe and America's number one lady golfers tee off at the 12th Solheim Cup in Co Meath tomorrow, millions of viewers around the globe will catch a glimpse of a beautifully restored 19th-century castle and pristine fairways.
The event -- a competition between Europe and the US's top female golfers -- which is being held this year at Killeen Castle, Dunsany, Co Meath, will undoubtedly showcase Irish golfing five years on from the 2006 Ryder Cup.
But in the five years since Europe and America's finest golfers teed off at the exclusive K Club in Co Kildare, the economic landscape has changed utterly and organisers admit the projected attendance at this week's event is now unlikely.
This is the first time Ireland has staged the Solheim Cup and in the region of 50,000 tickets have so far been sold -- just 66pc of the original target of 75,000.
The idea to host the prestigious tournament in Ireland had its genesis during the Celtic Tiger years, when tickets for such events always sold out well in advance.
It was in 2006 when Roddy Carr of IMG Tourism first made a bid to host the 2011 Solheim Cup at the site of a derelict 800-year-old castle in Co Meath.
Since that time golf membership has plummeted in a climate where it has also become increasingly difficult to sell-out sporting events.
"So far we have sold about 50,000 tickets, but there is a much bigger walk-up factor now than there was years ago, so we expect this number to increase," said Mr Carr. "It's like anything in Ireland now, a lot of people wait until the last minute to come.
"Nevertheless, we are expecting 10-15pc more walk- up than would have been the case years ago," he added. Mr Carr, who had been involved in putting together the original strategy to host the Ryder Cup in Ireland in 2006, says he set out to put Ireland on an equal footing with countries such as Scotland in terms of golf tourism.
"The fact is this event will be available to 350 million people in 140 countries and there will be wall-to-wall coverage on the Golf Channel, which is in 100 million homes worldwide. If you take the economic impact of that it is a bull's-eye in terms of target market, and we believe it will greatly enhance golf tourism," he added.
According to the head of golf tourism at Failte Ireland the event has resulted in about 87pc occupancy of Meath hotels, with a total of 4,000 rooms booked so far.
"The thing is, outside of the group golf packages that have been sold for this event you have a lot of independent golfers coming into the area who will pump money into the local economy. We estimate there are in the region of 2,500 visitors out playing golf in the area today, who would not be here only for this. These will each stay on average about 5.3nights. In total we are bringing about 4000 Americans into the region," said Mr Carr.
"It is estimated the event will still bring about €30m to the local economy," he added.
A small army of people have been working for five years to prepare the magnificent site in Dunsany for the influx of visitors.
A total of seven grandstands have been constructed around the course, including the first tee amphitheatre, and the traditional tournament village has been built in the shadow of the magnificent 12th- century, and now restored, Killeen Castle.
The opening ceremony will take place at 5pm today when European Captain Alison Nicholas and US Captain Rosie Jones introduce their respective teams before President Mary McAleese officially opens the competition.