Sunday 18 August 2019

Lahinch planning to host Open party to remember

Defining what makes Lahinch so special is akin to describing that happy glow that comes with a well-struck drive
Defining what makes Lahinch so special is akin to describing that happy glow that comes with a well-struck drive

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy would love to turn up in Lahinch for next year's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open as the Masters champion and the first European to complete the career Grand Slam.

But whatever the Holywood tyro achieves at Augusta National next April, the denizens of the Co Clare golfing mecca are confident that the town's special essence and the club's privileged place at the heart of the Irish game could produce a heady cocktail.

Defining what makes Lahinch so special is akin to describing that happy glow that comes with a well-struck drive.

There is no one key to what is hoped will be a huge success, but when you take the organisational skills and the charisma of arguably the greatest Ryder Cup captain Europe has produced in tournament host Paul McGinley and add a generous sprinkling of world stars on a classic links, the possibilities are endless.

'They come for the golf; they come back for the experience,' is a motto that sums up Lahinch's inimitable charm.

Just ask European Tour boss Keith Pelley, who played and stayed in Lahinch earlier this month.

Paul McGinley. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Paul McGinley. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"He got it straight away," said John Gleeson, the successful businessman who has been appointed as chairman of Lahinch's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Organising Committee.

"He was blown away by the uniqueness of it. So we have a strong ally in Keith Pelley and the fact that The Open is in Ireland, two weeks after the Irish Open, make us hold out a strong hope for a strong field."

The nuts and bolts of the staging plan will be drawn up when championship director Simon Alliss and experienced tournament director Miguel Vidaor make separate visits to Lahinch over the next eight weeks.

As for the field, nobody would be surprised if McGinley asked all the members of his winning 2014 Ryder Cup team to make the trip to Co Clare.


Apart from the Irish posse, led by McIlroy, the event could count on the presence of the likes of new Open champion Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson, Sergio García, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer or Ian Poulter as well as members of the US team captained by five-time Open champion Tom Watson.

"Without wanting to get expectations up, Paul is a formidable operator, and a lot of people respect him," explained Gleeson, whose committee also comprises such able people as Pádraig Slattery - founder and former CEO of Slattery Communications - and the club's indefatigable general manager, Paddy Keane.

"What he did in the Ryder Cup was unique and he, as one-time host of the Irish Open, will want to put is stamp on it in his own inimitable style. We have had Irish Opens in Adare, and that's a unique product. But we would also be very hopeful of a lot of support, not just from the west but from the south of Ireland."

McGinley is determined to make this one of the most memorable Irish Opens ever staged and integrating the village into the event is key to his plans.

"Paul would certainly like the tented village spread over the club's car park and the adjacent council car park," explained Gleeson, who does not expect there to be any significant changes made to the golf course.

"So while this is essentially about the golf, it is also about the unique Lahinch experience which we all understand but is hard to define.

"We are bringing some of the best golfers in the world here to experience this, and we are confident this is going to be a very memorable Irish Open."

McGinley is keen to maintain the integrity of the course - finishing on the par-five 18th rather than the par-five second.

The new championship tee that's added 35 yards to the 17th was a big success at the South of Ireland Championship last weekend but due to interference with the Klondyke and the Dell, the new 18th tee will not be used.

Instead, the Tour may opt to use a forward tee at the 15th that could stretch the par-five 18th to 560 yards if necessary on what will be a testing, 7,000-yard, par-70 test.

"If someone shoots 12- or 14-under on a par-70 here, he has played some golf because four days without wind in Lahinch is unheard of," added Gleeson. "So we are not worried about that aspect of things."

The park-and-ride system will be a big challenge but with Clare County Manager Pat Dowling and Chief Superintendent John Kerin both giving McGinley their assurances of full support, confidence is high.

"We want to put on a show that everyone will be proud of - not just for crowds but in terms of corporate hospitality," Gleeson said. "We think the tour will be surprised how well it does down here.

"The lowest attendance at the Irish Open in the last five years was The K Club with Rory in contention and ultimately winning. So we believe we will get huge support."

Tiger Woods remains Moby Dick to the Irish Open's Captain Ahab but dreams of McIlroy the Masters champion are alive and well in west Clare.

"Can you imagine?" Gleeson mused. "They will be coming down the mountain to see him."

Irish Independent

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