Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort will stage the Dubai Dubai Free Irish Open from September 24-27 as the championship returns to Northern Ireland for the fourth time since 2012.
As exclusively revealed by the Irish Independent earlier this week, the European Tour was forced to scrap plans to stage the event at Mount Juliet due to quarantine restrictions for travellers into the Republic of Ireland.
With an on-going ban on mass gatherings still in place, the European Tour made the decision to move the tournament to Northern Ireland where it will be subject to similar guidelines to the current ‘UK Swing’ events, including being played behind closed doors.
Planning remains on-going for the tournament to return to Mount Juliet in 2021, providing all health guidelines in place at that time can be met.
The move north means that a host of European Tour stars—including Shane Lowry and tournament host Graeme McDowell—who are scheduled to tee it up in the US Open at Winged Foot the previous week, will be able to travel directly from New York to a UK airport.
They can then travel onwards to the Ballymena venue without having to observe the 14-day self-isolation period that would have been required for US arrivals into the Republic of Ireland for a staging at Mount Juliet
However, following the changes to the date and the venue, allied to the overall disruption to the schedule, the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will have a prize fund of €1.25 million rather than $6 million and therefore will not be part of the Rolex Series.
The appearance in Northern Ireland of Open champion Lowry, 14 months after his six-shot win at Royal Portrush, will be a major boost.
However, Rory McIlroy said in Memphis two weeks ago that he's reluctant to travel during the pandemic and it also remains to be seen if the title holder, world No 1 Jon Rahm will return to Europe to bid for a third Irish Open success.
The Spaniard said at Lahinch last year that he would defend his title but with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting world travel, he might only cross the Atlantic if he was also committed to the BMW PGA at Wentworth from October 15-18.
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will, however, continue to drive Ireland’s status as a future Ryder Cup host country, the synergy even stronger given the fact that now, the centenary of The Ryder Cup and the centenary of the Irish Open both fall in 2027.
Keith Pelley, European Tour Chief Executive, said: “The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is an integral part of the European Tour’s schedule and despite the obvious challenges of staging any event in the current circumstances, we felt it was important to continue with the tournament providing we could do so safely.
“We did that, first and foremost with the support of Colm McLoughlin and everyone involved with our title sponsor Dubai Duty Free who once again showed commitment and understanding of the current global situation, and proved what a wonderful partner of the European Tour they are. We also did it with the support of the Northern Ireland Executive who deserve our sincere thanks.
“With the ongoing restrictions in the Republic of Ireland, we opted to move the tournament to Northern Ireland and are extremely grateful to Gary Henry and everyone at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort for stepping up to host us.
“I also want to thank Damien Gaffney and everyone at Mount Juliet, our original venue. Everyone at the Kilkenny course was ready to host the tournament this year until circumstances outside their control made that an impossibility. Hopefully, things will be different next year to allow us to return.”
It will be the first time the County Antrim venue has hosted Ireland’s national Open with the event moving into the date vacated by the rescheduling of the 2020 Ryder Cup to 2021.
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open was originally scheduled to take place at Mount Juliet Estate in County Kilkenny from May 28-31, but was postponed on March 30 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, said: “We have been working closely with the European Tour over the past several months to find a way of staging the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this year. The priority of course has been to stage an event that strictly follows all government protocols in light of Covid-19 and to ensure the safety of players and all those involved in the event.
“We are pleased that the Galgorm Castle Golf Club in County Antrim has been selected as a suitable venue, with the Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort as the official accommodation. Without a doubt, the tournament will be different this year but we think that the players and fans are going to enjoy this return to world-class golf on the Island of Ireland.”
Damien Gaffney, Director of Tetrarch Capital, said: “Naturally everyone at Mount Juliet Estate is disappointed we cannot host the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this year but we totally understand and appreciate the reasons why. We will continue to work with the European Tour and put our energies into staging the event here next year.”
The move to Galgorm means the Ballymena estate will host two events in three weeks as it is also scheduled to stage the €200,000 Northern Ireland Open supported by The R&A from September 3-6.
The €220,000 Irish Challenge, which was scheduled for the Republic of Ireland from September 10-13 but without a confirmed venue, has been removed from the Challenge Tour schedule.
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort is the fourth time the tournament has been played in Northern Ireland since 2012 when Royal Portrush became the first course north of the Irish border to host the tournament since 1953.
Welshman Jamie Donaldson claimed his maiden European Tour title on that occasion before the event returned to Northern Ireland in 2015, when Dane Søren Kjeldsen won at Royal County Down, and in 2017 when Rahm triumphed at Portstewart Golf Club to claim the first of his two Irish Open victories to date.