Irish Open must be special – Padraig
HOW on earth do you follow Portrush and the most amazing Irish Open in history?
European Tour chiefs and Ireland's three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington believe Carton House can provide the perfect answer to that daunting question when they host the 2013 Irish Open next June.
More than 130,000 excited fans shattered European Tour attendance records last summer as they flocked to Royal Portrush to see local Major-winning heroes Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell in action.
Northern Ireland responded so enthusiastically to its first taste of Irish Open action in 59 years that Tour chief executive George O'Grady admitted: "We were pleasantly surprised by the paying gate at Portrush."
For the first time in years, the Irish Open yielded a profit (estimated at around €1m), marking what Tour officials believe is the dawn of a new era for the event and providing a solid platform upon which the tournament can build from June 27-30 next.
As a mark of their confidence, the Tour plans a modest increase in last summer's €2m purse.
O'Grady revealed that the overall cost of staging the tournament will approach €4.5m.
In the absence of a title-sponsor, Failte Ireland will once again be the Tour's principal partner in a project which is central to the promotion of Irish golf-tourism, a sector worth €200m-plus annually to the economy.
Failte Ireland chairman Redmond O'Donoghue confirmed that the Irish Government input will be €1.5m (including VAT).
Further funds will come from secondary sponsors like Emirates Airlines, Heineken, Ballygowan and BMW, TV royalties, plus an anticipated contribution from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, leaving a shortfall of more than €1.7m.
This is where the public will come in, hopefully in their droves, making McIlroy's decision to commit to the 2013 Irish Open all the more important.
Over the past four months, McIlroy has become the biggest draw in world golf and Harrington rates this one-off chance for Irish fans to see the world No 1 play in 2013 as "a must" for fans.
"Obviously, there's many other Irish professionals and people will have their favourites, but, for sure, Rory's an unbelievable draw," Harrington added.
"As the Irish Open is the only male tour event here next year, it'll give the public a unique opportunity to see Rory perform in a relaxed, friendly environment. I'm sure people are going to get a lot closer to him at the Irish Open than they might at Majors, like the US Open or the British Open.
"Not that any of us who are playing are going to make it any easier for him. I, for one, would certainly like to win a second Irish Open. I know the Mongomerie Course very well. It should suit my game."
The Dubliner won this title at Adare in 2007 and tied fifth when the Irish Open paid the most recent of two back-to-back visits to the Carton Estate in 2006.
Harrington has no fears about Carton's ability to live up to the promise of Portrush and providing the special atmosphere which, traditionally, used draw the world's finest players to our shores.
"The Irish Open has to be more than just a golf tournament," he explained. "It has to have a special festival atmosphere to attract players.
"Killarney was immensely successful in creating that buzz and Portrush was special because of the atmosphere outside of the event and not just on the golf course.
"We play all around the world, but it's nice to come away from event saying 'that was fun' and that's what we must provide at the Irish Open. We're not just selling 72 holes of golf, but the entire package surrounding the tournament.
"I believe Carton House is a venue that can deliver more than just a golf tournament, everything suggests it should be perfect."
Like Killarney, a 'Summer Festival' is being mooted for Maynooth in tournament week, while the golfers and their families will be invited to the Budweiser Irish Derby at the Curragh on the evening of Saturday, June 29.
With tickets now on sale, including a €50 special for Carton and the Curragh that Saturday, Harrington quipped: "Can you think of a better Christmas gift for any sports fan."