McGinley and Clarke key as Seniors nears Ireland return
Seniors golf looks set to return to Irish shores with the European Tour in talks with the megabucks Champions Tour to stage an event that would have Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke as the key home attractions.
While European Tour CEO Keith Pelley would only confirm that they are having "conversations" with their American counterparts, any co-sanctioned Seniors event will be ear-marked for Ireland.
The news is a major boost to the over-50s circuit which took a giant step forward yesterday when UK-based travel insurance giant Staysure became the first umbrella sponsor in the history of the European Senior Tour.
The European Senior Tour will now be known as the Staysure Tour with as many as 20 events on the 2018 schedule should the new Irish event eventually go ahead.
"Next year we have four new tournaments coming on the schedule and we do want to move beyond 20," Pelley said shortly before announcing that Masters champion Sergio Garcia had been voted 2017 Hilton European Tour Player of the Year by the golf writers.
"We want to go to great places that have great golf courses that support our game and Ireland is a natural place.
"Is that something (Senior Tour director) David (MacLaren) and the team are working on? Absolutely. Could it be something that happens next year? Anything is possible."
Major involvement by McGinley and Clarke would be key for the success of an Irish event in 2018 or 2019.
"We have to find out how we can take some of our great athletes and embrace them," Pelley said. "Paul McGinley has helped us in an ambassador's role and he's on our board. Ireland is definitely on our radar."
The acquisition of a new umbrella sponsor is a big step towards reviving a tour which boasted 21 events when the Irish Seniors Open was last played at Carton House in 2010 to just 12 in 2015.
While most of Europe's top names head for the lucrative PGA Champions Tour, Pelley believes he must copy his European Tour model and get star Seniors to take ownership of events just as Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia have done on the main tour.
McGinley started playing Seniors golf this year and with US-bound Clarke set to celebrate his 50th birthday on August 14 next year, an early September date might be an ideal time to revive Seniors golf here after a seven-year gap.
"It's great to have this umbrella sponsorship that is going to propel things forward again," McGinley said.
Pelley added: "The next step is to get some of our marquee players in and take a page out of the European Tour (model) by aligning them with some key events.
"It is safe to say that two years ago, the European Senior Tour was on life support and it is anything but that now."
The £400,000 Staysure PGA Seniors is one of four new events next year alongside the Russian Open Golf Championship, the Shipco Masters in Denmark and the Costa Blanca Senior Golf Masters in Spain.
Mount Juliet staged the AIB Irish Seniors Open in 1999 but the resort's touring professional Gavin Moynihan is eight shots behind South Africa's Keenan Davidse after opening with a level-par 72 at the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club.
Davidse made nine birdies in an eight-under 63 on the Bushwillow Course to lead by a shot from a group of six players.
On the PGA Tour, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell will be bidding to become the first non-American team to win the 54-hole, QBE Shootout since Greg Norman and Steve Elkington in 1998 when they tee it up at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples.
As for the European Senior Tour, McGinley, Brendan McGovern, Des Smyth and Philip Walton tee it up in the season-ending MCB Tour Championship in Mauritius.