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Irish Open 'absolutely critical' as European Tour announces restart


The Mount Juliet resort in Kilkenny will host the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open

The Mount Juliet resort in Kilkenny will host the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open

The Mount Juliet resort in Kilkenny will host the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open

The European Tour is juggling "three or four" potential new dates for what it describes as the "absolutely critical" Dubai Duty Free Irish Open as it plans to resume its 2020 season with a six-week "UK Swing" this summer.

The season was suspended after the Qatar Masters on March 8 because of the global Coronavirus pandemic.

But in an impressive display of logistical, commercial and diplomatic gymnastics, CEO Keith Pelley — who categorically denied the Tour was "bankrupt or running out of money" — has come up with a tentative 24-event schedule that will eventually include the Irish Open, beginning with six events in England and Wales.

The season will resume with Lee Westwood's hosting of the Betfred British Masters at Close House near Newcastle from July 22-25 — the first of six consecutive, €1 million-plus events to be played behind closed doors at UK resorts, all of which boast on-site hotels.

The restart is contingent on the lifting of quarantine measures in the UK. But with strict COVID testing measures in place, the Tour hopes to confirm another 14 events, "including Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal", to go with four Rolex Series events it confirmed today.

The Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (October 8-11) and the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth (October 15-18) will be followed in December by the Nedbank Golf Challenge (December 3-6) and DP World Tour Championship, Dubai (December 10-13), meaning the Irish Open could yet move to October 1-4, just ahead of the Scottish and London events.

"The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is still absolutely critical and is very much part of our plans," Mr Pelley said of the €7million event that was due to be played at Mount Juliet Resort in Co Kilkenny this week.

"I don't want you to think that the Irish Open, because it is not part of this announcement, is less important, because that would give you the wrong message.

"It is hugely important to us. So much so that we have three or four date options for it. We could have announced it today but it wouldn't have been 100 per cent and I didn't feel comfortable with that."

Government regulations, as well as the opinions of sponsors such as Dubai Duty Free, Rolex and the Irish government, will have a huge bearing on choosing a definitive date for an event which is a crucial part of Ireland's 2026 Ryder Cup strategy.

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The "UK Swing" covers late July and August and with the US Open, the Tour Championship and the yet-to-be-cancelled Ryder Cup dominating September, dates are thin on the ground.

"All I can say is that (the Ryder Cup) is still on the schedule and that we will be having further dialogue with our friends at the PGA of America," Pelley said.

Should the Ryder Cup be cancelled, it would free up a date for the Irish Open (September 24-27), but with the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship (Oct 1-4) the only event Pelley said has not yet moved from its original date, finding a slot for Mount Juliet is not easy.

The October 1-4 date would be ideal ahead of the Scottish Open (October 8 - 11) and the BMW PGA Championship (October 15-18) but should the Alfred Dunhill Links remain there, October 22-25 may be an alternative.

Events are likely to remain behind closed doors, but the Tour insists that ticket sales make up just "5 per cent" of its income.

Europe's diversity — it had planned 46 Race to Dubai events in 29 countries for the 2019-20 season — is one of its strength but dealing with multiple governments proved to be a significant challenge on this occasion.

"Determining where and when we can play has been the biggest question," Pelley said. "We've had a plethora of conversations with all governments regarding quarantine, travel restriction and testing.

"But is the European Tour bankrupt or running out of money? Absolutely not. Of course, we have been affected, like businesses the world over. But we have been extremely responsible in our approach to this global crisis.

"I'm not going to go into financial details, but we have created five tournaments from scratch. We have implemented a £500,000 bonus pool (for the UK Swing). We have made a significant investment in our medical health strategy.

"All in all, we have devised a plan that has allowed us to do three things. It has allowed us to navigate through this initial phase of the crisis and resurrect our 2020 schedule.

"It has helped us prepare for the short-term future. And it has helped us create a platform for the longer-term future."

The Tour is investing over €2 million in testing for its three tours with players to undergo Covid-19 testing before they travel and again on arrival as well as daily checks for symptoms and further testing if necessary.

The first six events will be 144-man, full-field events but while all will be televised by Sky Sports and the Golf Channel, there will be no fans and no more than 500 people on-site with journalists to cover remotely via a virtual media-centre.

European Tour Schedule

"UK Swing”

Jul 22-25 (W-S): Betfred British Masters hosted by Lee Westwood, Close House Golf Club, England
July 30- Aug 2: English Open, Marriott Forest of Arden, England
Aug 6-9: English Championship, Marriott Hanbury Manor, England
Aug 13-16: Celtic Classic, The Celtic Manor Resort, Wales
Aug 20-23: Wales Open, The Celtic Manor Resort, Wales
Aug 27-30: UK Championship, The Belfry, England

Confirmed Rolex Series events

Oct 8-11: Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, The Renaissance Club, Scotland
Oct 15-18: BMW PGA Championship, Wentworth Club, England
Dec 3-6: Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, Gary Player CC, RSA
Dec 10-13: DP World Tour Championship, Dubai

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