Wednesday 25 April 2018

Rory's stunning victory a boost for beleaguered golf resort

Siobhan Creaton

Everyone at Northern Ireland's luxurious Lough Erne resort was delighted with Rory McIlroy's victory at the US Open last weekend.

Now the staff are hoping the 22-year-old international golf sensation -- who is the resort's touring professional -- will help to reverse the hotel and golf resort's fortunes in the months and years ahead.

General manager Jonathan Stapleton says the phones have been busy since McIlroy's stunning victory with well-wishers and prospective guests contacting the county Fermanagh resort this week.

"The immediate reaction has been extremely positive. Rory is a very special young man and what he has done is quite incredible and is a huge boost for tourism in Northern Ireland," he says.

Mr Stapleton says they had been expecting their visiting pro to win a major tournament this year and they could hardly contain their delight to see McIlroy lift the trophy while proudly displaying the Lough Erne logo on his shirt collar.

The millions of international viewers who followed the Open could also plainly see it on the back of his shirt as well as on his golf bag. It was a marketing dream.

"It was amazing to see it feature on the front page of most papers in the world," Mr Stapleton says. "We are all very happy for him and his family. He is Northern Ireland's greatest ambassador."

To immediately capitalise on the win the hotel created a special package it emailed to its client base that quickly translated into bookings.

"I took six bookings myself today for Saturday," he says. "There is huge interest and deservedly so."

The county Down man who is tipped to become the biggest earner in the history of European sport owns a house at the resort that he visits at least four or five times a year.

He has described it as his "home from home" in Northern Ireland. "His parents Gerry and Rosie are here very often," Mr Stapleton says "and Rory is such a nice young man that when he is here he always stops to chat to people and will sign autographs."

Jim Treacy, the Fermanagh-born businessman who built the 120-bedroom hotel together with 25 lodges and 67 houses around the 18 hole course designed by another golf legend, Nick Faldo, was also toasting McIlroy's success.

It was he who signed McIlroy up to be the resort's pro when it opened three years ago. It looks like an inspired move.

Mr Treacy (57), who describes himself as a "middling golfer" has known McIlroy since he was 14, he says, and over the years became friendly with him and his father.

Their deal was forged based on an "appreciation" by Rory of Mr Treacy's support in the early stages of his career. "Rory didn't forget that I helped him out in the early years," he says.

"Today we have good respect for each other." His success he says "can't do any harm" to Lough Erne.

For Mr Treacy, the glow McIlroy has cast on the resort he describes as "his baby" is bitter sweet.

Lough Erne, like so many other Irish golf clubs and resorts, has had its financial problems and was put into receivership by Bank of Scotland Ireland with debts of £25m (€28m) just last month.

Mr Treacy, who has been forced to cede control of the resort he nurtured from birth and invested €10m of his own funds in, is still reeling from the bank's action that also had stark repercussions for his SuperValu store in Churchtown in Dublin.

The Churchtown shop, which was one of SuperValu's flagship outlets in the Republic with an annual profit of around €2m a year was also placed in receivership because it had been put up as security for the bank's loans for the Fermanagh resort.

Mr Treacy ran this shop for more than 20 years and said he is working through the receivership process with the franchise owners, Musgraves and his bank.

He also owns other retail properties close by as well as at the Dundrum Town Centre and on Dublin's O'Connell Street.

"It has been very stressful. They are good businesses and not failed businesses," he says. "I am not going to take this lying down."

Mr Treacy describes himself as a "victim of the times we live in" and feels harshly treated by Bank of Scotland Ireland as it sought to wind down its Irish lending portfolio and exit the market here.

"I built the resort because I thought I would like to do something for my local county while Bank of Scotland Ireland has no interest in the island of Ireland."

He has pledged to regain control of the SuperValu business and the Lough Erne resort and McIlroy's success may enhance his prospects.

The hotel and golf resort is operating as normal, its general manager says and is working through the change of ownership process.

It hopes the Northern Ireland government and the tourist agencies will support it in its drive to attract new visitors.

"There is the potential for a huge boost in tourism, particularly from North America," Mr Stapleton says. "Rory has given us the opportunity to really move forward in a positive way. Rory has opened the door in a big way and we need to march through it."

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