Sport Golf

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Massive €1m profit for 'the People's Open'

The magic of Royal Portrush is captured by this picture of the 18th hole, with spectators packed around the green in record numbers
The magic of Royal Portrush is captured by this picture of the 18th hole, with spectators packed around the green in record numbers

Karl MacGinty

SO where does the Irish Open go from here?

The immediate future is clear -- it will be played at the same time but in a different place, Carton House, next year.

In the longer term, however, the Irish Open has been brought to a crossroads by its phenomenal success in Royal Portrush.

The 112,280 people who flocked to the tournament over four days marked the first time attendance figures at a European Tour event exceeded 100,000.

Including practice days, a whopping 130,785 turned out -- more than attended the 2009 British Open at Turnberry.

The remarkable public response to the first Irish Open played in Northern Ireland since 1953 makes it imperative for this championship to return there as soon as possible, in the interests of both the tournament and golf tourism.

Importantly, a political precedent has been set for the establishment of a rota like that for the British Open, whereby the event will visit only top links courses around the island.

With Royal Portrush scheduled to host the British Amateur in June 2014, the Irish Open cannot be played there on the same dates in that year. The Amateur Championship is promoted by the R&A, who own the British Open. So staging this prestige event is significant to Royal Portrush's aspirations to bring golf's oldest Major back to their links.

To play the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2014, the tournament must move to a less favourable place on the schedule -- the French and Scottish Open tournaments are firmly ensconced in the two weeks before the British Open.

Anyway, given the intense effort Portrush invested in this year's event, I understand they'll be happy to take a well-earned 'breather' before welcoming it back.

So a move to another prestige venue, like Royal Co Down, may be on the cards. Either way, the Irish Open must go back across the border in 2014.

Sponsors take a back seat

LAST weekend's record-breaking championship in Portrush has further strengthened the concept of the Irish Open as 'the people's tournament'.

While the European Tour is unlikely ever to turn away a well-heeled title sponsor, the substantial profit generated by the 2012 Irish Open further reduced the once-overriding imperative to find a major corporate partner.

This year's event yielded record receipts of £1.6m (around €2m), according to a Tour insider.

So the Tour not only had their staging costs covered but also went well into the black -- a rarity since the end of the Murphy's sponsorship around the turn of the century.

The €2m prize fund was covered by the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dublin Government, who between them ploughed in an estimated €1.25m (roughly 75pc of it coming from Stormont).

The remaining €750,000 came from half a dozen sponsorship 'partners' drummed up by Royal Portrush Golf Club itself and the Tour.

With no expense spared in the efforts to ensure the smooth running of an event of intense political, social and sporting significance, staging costs were higher than usual, leaving around £800,000 (or €1m) in profit.

Any reduction in pressure to find a demanding corporate sugar-daddy is good. With the general golfing public and government on both sides of the border as its biggest backers, the Irish Open's prospects of visiting courses which best reflect golf on this island are greatly enhanced.

Tiger lurks in long grass

IN picking up his third US Tour win of the season at Congressional on Sunday, Tiger Woods showed how close he has come to complete rehabilitation.

Tiger is now back at world No 4 and, with 74 PGA Tour victories on his CV, lies one ahead of Jack Nicklaus and just eight shy of Sam Snead's all-time record.

Still, one cannot be certain whether Woods will resume his pursuit of the 18 Major titles won by Nicklaus -- he has 14 -- at the British Open at Lytham.

After all, Tiger won at Bay Hill then flopped at the Masters.

He also prevailed spectacularly at Memorial and fizzled out a fortnight later at the US Open ... the gap between the Majors and regular Tour events is vast.

Judging by his performance at Portrush, Padraig Harrington is a couple of steps further back on the comeback trail than Tiger.

During back-to-back rounds of 67 last Thursday and Friday, the Dubliner performed with the assurance one expects of a three-time Major winner.

At the weekend, however, he lost 'trust' in his reading of the greens. As he stalled, the aura of confidence surrounding Harrington simply melted away.

After entering Sunday's final round two behind Jamie Donaldson, Harrington effectively let the winless Welshman off the hook with an unsettled start, then repeatedly missed birdie putts which would have propelled him back into contention.

Harrington is playing well but four years after his most recent success in Europe or the US, he needs to reacquire the winning habit before days like last Sunday become second nature once again.

Now 60th in the world, victory in Scotland on Sunday week would give him enough ranking points (52) to squeeze into the Ryder Cup picture.

Yet, like Tiger, he knows the comeback trail can be taken one day at a time.

Irish Independent

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