Thursday 25 April 2019

McGinley hopes for carnival atmosphere as Irish Open circus comes to Lahinch

Paul McGinley. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul McGinley. Photo: Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

Paul McGinley wants Lahinch to be a "major" party when he hosts the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at the iconic County Clare links.

Player power was key to the decision to award the event to what's considered the St Andrews of Ireland from July 4-7 next year.

And the Dubliner believes that by offering them a course set-up similar to what they will face in The Open at Royal Portrush two weeks later, many of the world's best players will turn up for what fans in the south-west will make a week-long golfing party.

"I want to say to the guys that if you really want good preparation for The Open, the Irish Open at Lahinch is going to provide that," said McGinley, who credits his 1991 South of Ireland win at Lahinch as the turning point of his career.

"I want a festival atmosphere and for the fans to really get involved and have a good time. It's going to be a carnival atmosphere with a great crowd and a great to course that's going to be a great test.

"Those are all the things that add to the theatre of an event, which is crucial when TV pictures go out across the world."

With a global TV audience of close to 500 million in 150 countries, McGinley knows that it will be an easy sell and many of the world's best will be tempted to play what will be a massive showcase for Irish golf worldwide.

"Having big crowds is important so I certainly want to get people really engaged and invigorated to see what will no doubt be a really strong field," he said.

Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson are believed to be considering the trip but whatever about their presence, McGinley is certain it will be a massive event.

"Rory is going to play and anybody who comes after that will be a bonus," he said.

"They don't get a huge amount of top-class sporting events there so we are going to do a lot of engagement with the community now that the big circus is coming to town."

Lahinch will likely be a par-70 measuring 7,000 yards for the $7 million-plus Rolex Series extravaganza.

Normally a par-72 measuring just over 6,950 yards, new tees at the 17th and 18th have added another 100 yards and with the par-five second and iconic par-five fourth - both less than 500 yards - almost certainly to become par-fours, a stiff test is guaranteed.

Setting up the course similarly to what the players will face in The Open at Royal Portrush is going to be key.

"I've been talking to the R&A and I am going to align with them in terms of the course set-up - fairway widths, rough heights and green speeds - because the terrain is not dissimilar," McGinley said.

"I did that in Wales before the Ryder Cup and the players enjoyed playing there knowing it was going to be a similar set-up to Gleneagles."

With Shannon airport and 10,000 hotel rooms within easy reach, he still had to work hard to persuade the tour and the sponsors that Lahinch was a better commercial option than the capital, where Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links was the alternative.

"I am glad they came around to my way of thinking," he said.

"A lot of the market in Dublin will be geared towards Portrush, so the biggest thing that Lahinch had going for it, aside from the golf course, was moving away from Portrush and not trying to compete with the Open Championship but to complement it.

"It opens up a whole new market with three of the biggest cities - Limerick, Cork and Galway - all within striking distance.

"That means we'll have a different potential crowd because it's unlikely people are going to buy tickets to two golf tournaments in the space of three weeks."

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