Monday 18 December 2017

Dermot Gilleece: There's a different feel to Irish Open these days

Paul McGinley on the 4th tee on day one
Paul McGinley on the 4th tee on day one

There’s a different feel to the Irish Open these days.

From a time when Carrolls looked to Seve Ballesteros to fire public interest in the event,  home talent was dominating matters during the opening round at Carton House, especially on the scoreboard.

Indeed involvement by Irish players extended beyond the fairway ropes.  As in the question-and-answer session involving Ryder Cup skipper, Paul McGinley, and CNN’s golf man, Shane O’Donoghue, in the tented village.   Despite being huddled together under umbrellas against untimely showers, the fans loved it.

For seasoned observers like myself, it provided an interesting insight into what might be described as the X-Factor of modern tournament golf.  Translated, this means the perceived need by organisers to provide something extra for the paying punter.

Which raises another point, namely the process of actually paying in, which seems curiously alien to the Irish golf fan.   Some of the older generation at Carton for the opening round of the country’s biggest golf tournament, could remember years at Portmarnock and Royal Dublin where the notion of actually paying in, was utterly frowned upon.

In fact it you were interested in offering something extra to fans on those occasions, it could have taken the form of a competition to find someone who had spurned tradition and paid in.  The fact was that only gobshites paid in; the vast majority got their tickets either directly from Carrolls or from one of their tobacco outlets.  Or they pestered people like me.

I’ve had several such requests in the last week, mainly from people of a certain age.  They’re the ones who saw the world’s greatest players for free at Portmarnock and Royal Dublin and who clearly believe that the custom of freebies still obtains.  It’s been necessary to inform them that things have changed; that the old Carrolls way doesn’t apply any more, especially in the absence of a title sponsor.  And at €35 for a daily pass, it can’t be considered robbery for 12 hours’ entertainment, especially when  Premiership soccer in England works out at roughly twice that figure.

In this context, it’s interesting to recall the explanation from Carrolls when they decided to move the Irish Open from a Dublin venue to Killarney in 1991.  Shipping the extensive tentage in from England, which effectively made it imperative to have the event in the environs of our biggest, eastern-faced port,  was no longer a factor, given the availability of such equipment from a company in Tuam.  But another, equally crucial reason was the realisation in Carrolls that they could significantly offset ever-increasing costs, through gate receipts.

They were also forced to acknowledge, however, that the only realistic way of doing this was to make a fresh start.  In other words, to take the event away from the freebie culture of Dublin.  And it worked, though Carrolls eventually stepped down as  sponsors two years later, after taking the event to Mount Juliet.

From any perspective, the golf was great on the opening day at Carton.  In fact older observers would have been forced to acknowledge that it was even worth paying for.

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