Wednesday 21 February 2018

Boost for Irish Open as title sponsors eager to stay on

Rory McIlroy's Foundation hosted this year's Irish Open
Rory McIlroy's Foundation hosted this year's Irish Open

Dermot Gileece

Dubai Duty Free will remain as title sponsors of the Irish Open next year, provided they receive an anticipated thumbs-up from event analysts.

"It looks like good value to us," admitted the company's executive vice-chairman, Colm McLoughlin, at Royal Co Down yesterday.

The existing deal was for one year only, with the option of a further two years. According to McLoughlin, this was done to establish how a relationship between Dubai Duty Free and the European Tour would work out. And it seems to have worked admirably. "Anything I asked them to do, they did it," he said. "They are very good at what they do."

McLoughlin went on to reveal that his support of the event stemmed from his pro-am appearance as a partner for Peter Lawrie at this year's Dubai Desert Classic last January.

"Talking to Peter, I learned that having lost his card, he managed to receive a sponsor's invite into the tournament through the influence of Rory McIlroy," he said. "He also told me that Rory arranged free hotel accommodation for him. I liked that."

In fact, he liked it so much that he made a point of telling McIlroy so, when they met later in the week with the player's caddie, JP Fitzgerald. "That's when Rory told me that his Foundation were hosting this year's Irish Open," McLoughlin added.

"Which registered with me because our company also have a foundation doing charitable work. I thought it was very nice of a young man to be doing this. And that it might be the right time for our company to support the Irish Open."

So it was that McLoughlin contacted James Finnigan and George O'Grady of the European Tour, leading to a sponsorship deal. And further involvement will hinge on two factors.

"I want to see what the value of the media return is; what the column inches and television and radio exposure are worth," he said. "Then there's Rory. I think Rory's involvement cannot be overstated. We all know how good a golfer he is, but I also think he's a fine young man. It's very impressive what he's doing here through his Foundation. Whether it distracted his golf or not, it's not for me to say. Either way, he's the one who got the field and the players."

Though McLoughlin wasn't saying, the indications are that next year's event will be staged at The K Club, with which he already has close business interests through the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. And unlike earlier sponsors of this event, the idea of alternating between North and south doesn't pose any commercial constraints for his company. "From our point of view, this is very much an all-Ireland event," he said.

Meanwhile, Pádraig Harrington drifted out of contention on the third day of play when he carded a 78, having begun the day's play just one shot behind the leaders. Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen, seeking his first European Tour title for six years, is two shots clear of Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Germany's Max Kieffer. Kjeldsen played his first 13 holes in six under par but bogeyed the 17th and 18th.

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