Wednesday 26 April 2017

K Club odds on to clinch Irish Open deal for 2016

Graeme McDowell, of Northern Ireland, hits his approach shot to the second green during the second round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, April 10, in Augusta, (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Graeme McDowell, of Northern Ireland, hits his approach shot to the second green during the second round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, April 10, in Augusta, (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The good times are set to roll again at Straffan if Dr Michael Smurfit's team can clinch the 2016 Dubai Duty Free Open for The K Club.

On Sunday, colleague Dermot Gilleece revealed Dr Smurfit's bullish endeavours to clinch a deal for a first staging of the Irish Open at the renowned Kildare venue which hosted the Ryder Cup in 2006.

"There are three reasons why a staging next year holds considerable appeal for me," said Dr Smurfit.

"It happens to the be the 25th anniversary of the opening of The K Club; the 10th anniversary of the Ryder Cup there; and I will be 80 on August 7 that year."

He also highlighted Rory McIlroy's commitment to the event, saying: "I really admire his personal investment in getting so many top players involved. Commercially, he is making it a hugely attractive proposition."

Yesterday, James Finnigan, the European Tour's commercial director, refused to confirm or deny that a deal with The K Club for next year is imminent.

Finnigan said: "As we speak, the venue for 2016 has yet to be confirmed. There are a number of interested parties, including The K Club. We welcome their interest, and we're continuing our discussions with them."

The cautious nature of the Tour response is no surprise, despite the proven record of 13 European Opens and the '06 Ryder Cup being held at The K Club.

Hardball

Negotiations are ongoing and while Dr Smurfit said that hosting the Irish Open would cost his organisation €1 million, it is not clear whether that would include a facility fee.

Both sides could play hardball if the Tour wants a payment to bring the event to Straffan.

In addition, the build-up to this year's Open, hosted in conjunction with the Rory Foundation and Tourism Northern Ireland at Royal County Down from May 28-31 was ramped up by last week's announcement that top players Martin Kaymer, Patrick Reed and Luke Donald will join a star-studded field.

The Tour and sponsors want the primary focus to go on next month's staging of the Irish Open, which, said Finnigan, will have a "World Golf Championship field".

The numbers are racking up in the 'green for go' zone for this tournament:

Five - the number of competitors who have topped the World rankings - McIlroy, the current No 1, Donald, Ernie Els, Kaymer and Lee Westwood.

Eight - the number of Major winners in the tournament - McIlroy, Els, Kaymer, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell (right), Paul Lawrie and Jose Maria Olazabal.

Eighteen - the number of Major titles won by that elite group of players, including four for McIlroy, four for Els, three for Harrington, and two each for Kaymer and Olazabal.

€2.5 million - the prize fund, which has increased by 25 per cent on last year's total.

The winner will take home €416,660, compared with the €333,330 claimed by 2014 champion Mikko Ilonen.

That's a healthy increase but if money was the sole inducement, most of the top stars would give the Irish Open a miss.

Instead, they're queueing up to have a crack at one of the World's top links, which is also part of the 'X Factor' that is in play for this year's event along with Rory McIlroy's influence on the elite players.

Meanwhile, Michael McDermott's consistent performances on the Irish PGA circuit in 2014 have earned him an Irish Open debut.

The 34-year-old will join five other Irish region players at Royal County Down - Brendan McGovern (Headfort), Damien Mooney (Ballyliffin), Neil O'Briain (Old Conna), John Kelly (St Margaret's) and Cian McNamara (Monkstown).

In Scotland, the Irish senior ladies team retained the Mary McKenna Perpetual Salver at Dunbar.

The Ireland winning team, captained by Mary Madden, was: Sheena McElroy, Laura Webb, Carol Wickham, Pat Doran, Mary McLaren, Helen Jones, Suzanne Corcoran, Gertie McMullen.

Irish Independent

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