McIlroy takes central role as Irish Open gets prize fund lift
Rory McIlroy conducted a golf clinic for the battered, bruised, but triumphant Irish Rugby players at Celtic Manor yesterday before he flies to California today for the Frys.com Open which starts on Thursday.
McIlroy took time out to attend the Northern Ireland v Greece game at Windsor Park last Thursday, and the Ireland v France clash in Cardiff on Sunday.
He then gave the Irish rugby heroes a few golfing tips as they rested up following the gruelling World Cup battle.
Prior to his departure for the USA, he also welcomed the European Tour's announcement that Dubai Duty Free will continue to partner with his charitable Rory Foundation as host and sponsor of the Irish Open for the next three years.
Further good news was the confirmation of a return to top level tournament golf for The K Club from May 19-22 next year, and an increase in prize money from €2.5m to €4m.
McIlroy's influence persuaded a number of international stars, including Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els and Luke Donald, to play in Royal County Down last May.
His role was also pivotal to Dubai Duty Free coming on board as title sponsors, and ensuring the level of publicity and status for the tournament.
This is hugely positive for Irish golf as the prize fund, the sponsorship, and the McIlroy factor combine to restore the Irish Open as a premier tournament on the international golfing schedule.
"The Irish Open has always meant so much to me, so I am really excited to announce my commitment to host the tournament, on behalf of the Rory Foundation, for the next three years," McIlroy (right) said in a statement.
"I would like to thank Colm McLoughlin of Dubai Duty Free and Keith Pelley of The European Tour for supporting my vision to develop the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation into one of the leading events on The European Tour's schedule over the next three years.
"I was delighted with the support I received, not only from the players who competed this year, but also from the fans who came along to the Irish Open at Royal County Down in May - they made it another sell-out tournament.
"I am sure The K Club - on the 10th anniversary as host of the 2006 Ryder Cup - will be an excellent venue for the 2016 Irish Open."
This is a new departure for The K Club, which has never previously staged the Irish Open, although it was the home of the prestigious European Open from 1995-2007. The latter tournament boasted an illustrious list of winners including Major champions Michael Campbell, Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen and Bernhard Langer, alongside former European Tour No 1s Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood.
Opened in 1991, 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of its existence as a landmark golfing resort.
The vision of founder Dr Michael Smurfit gradually evolved into making it Ireland's first Ryder Cup venue.
"We look forward to the year ahead greatly, as along with celebrating the 25 year anniversary of The K Club and the ten year anniversary of the staging of The Ryder Cup, it will also be the year that I celebrate my 80th birthday," said Smurfit.
McIlroy tees it up in the Frys.com Open at the Silverado Resort in Napa, California on Thursday, the opening event of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season.
Meanwhile, top stars of sport and showbiz, including soccer hero Liam Brady, Mike Gibson and Fergus Slattery from rugby, Eamonn Coghlan (athletics), Christy O'Connor Junior and Des Smyth (golf), and Babs Keating of Tipperary GAA fame, attended the 80th birthday party celebrations of Links GS legend Cecil Whelan at Luttrellstown Castle on Saturday night. The Links Society raised over €11m for charity from 1966-2011.