Talk of Irish Open's demise greatly exaggerated
Published 02/07/2013 | 05:00
THE Irish Open is alive and kicking after Carton, stronger than it has been in years.
The support it received from the public over the weekend, despite losing all four of Ireland's Major champions on 'Bleak Friday', represented a massive vote of confidence in the event.
That 44,720 spectators flocked to the tournament on Saturday and Sunday following the elimination of Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke heavily underscored the maturity and discerning appetite of the Irish golf fan.
Even after hopes of a home winner expired on Saturday, 24,173 still flocked to the fairway ropes the following day, despite strong counter-attractions.
The overall figure of 81,379 for the four tournament days was as impressive as the all-time European Tour record 112,280 who attended Royal Portrush last summer for the triumphal homecoming of McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke.
Unlike Portrush, this year's event did not make a profit, though the European Tour's commercial director James Finnigan expects the books will balance when the accounting is done, quite an achievement under trying circumstances.
In the years since it hosted two storm-ravaged Irish Opens in 2005 and 2006, Carton House has grown from a virtual building site into a venue offering every feature and facility a big tournament demands.
Indeed, the Montgomerie Course perhaps is too expansive, lending strength to Carton resident Shane Lowry's suggestion that the Irish Open would be more atmospheric if staged next year on the O'Meara Course.
Finnigan hopes to play the O'Meara with Lowry in the near future, giving him the perfect opportunity to extol its virtues.
Several other courses, including Druids Glen, reputedly are interested in hosting the event next year (while a return to Portrush is on the cards for 2015). Yet it will be a surprise if the Irish Open is not at Carton House in 2014.
The Tour entertained potential title sponsors on Sunday, Finnigan has confirmed. A €5m benefactor would be welcome but not essential to the survival of the event.
With Taoiseach Enda Kenny happy to dally after presenting the trophy to Paul Casey, Failte Ireland's continuing support (which stood at €1.5m this year) seems assured, while the coterie of smaller six-figure sponsors appeared equally content.
No doubt, the demise of the Irish Open was greatly exaggerated.