Wednesday 21 March 2018

Royal treatment marks new era for Irish Open

Royal Portrush will surely gain even more admirers when the Irish Open is staged there this summer
Royal Portrush will surely gain even more admirers when the Irish Open is staged there this summer
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

RORY McILROY, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell have had their fondest wish granted -- an Irish Open to be played at Royal Portrush this year.

Today, the European Tour will confirm that the famed Ulster links will host the Irish Open from June 28-July 1.

The news comes as a surprise to many in Irish golf who believed that Carton House, near Dublin, was poised to host the championship, which was staged by Killarney in 2010 and 2011.

Royal Portrush was mentioned as a strong contender for 2013, but it has now been pushed forward to this year.

European Tour, Royal Portrush and Carton House officials were not contactable yesterday in advance of today's media conference.

However, a number of factors have come into play. First, Clarke and McIlroy were included in the British queen's new year's honours list, with British Open champion Clarke receiving the OBE and US Open winner McIlroy becoming an MBE. Graeme McDowell, who won the US Open in 2010, was awarded an MBE last year.

The profile of the three Ulster-born players has never been higher, and that offers Northern Ireland an ideal platform to encourage golf tourism.

It is believed that this factor was the spur for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, who will be represented at the media conference today, to invest around €2m to tip the balance in favour of Royal Portrush claiming the right to hold the Irish Open this year instead of 2013.

And there's also likely to be a sweetener for Carton House -- they are in line to host the event next year.

The decision is the outcome of complex and intense negotiations between the Tour, who hold the rights to the Irish Open, Failte Ireland, Northern Ireland government and tourism officials and, of course, the clubs concerned.

There is no sentiment in golf. McIlroy, Clarke and McDowell may support the idea of Royal Portrush for an Irish Open, but money talks and unless the sums work out for the European Tour, you don't get to stage an event.

The Tour has only one objective: to maintain its level of funding for tournaments and to keep its multi-millionaire members playing for huge sums of money each year.


It's a job they do very well and, in fairness, the Tour has given strong recognition to Ireland by pumping large sums of its own money to keep the Irish Open going after the last title sponsor '3' ended its involvement in 2010.

That could not continue, hence the drawn-out saga of the 2012 venue.

In August, Killarney looked favourite to retain the Open for a third year. And by early October the indications were that Carton House, which held the Irish Open on the Montgomerie Course in 2005 and '06, was in pole position.

But today's announcement will mark a new era for the Irish Open, one which underlines the level of co-operation across the island by government and tourism bodies.

Golf at amateur and PGA level has always been a 32-county entity, as is evident by the history of the Irish Open, which was held nine times in the North between 1927 and 1953.

Royal Co Down (1928, 1935, 1939), Royal Portrush (1930, 1937, 1947), Malone (1933), and Belvoir Park (1949, 1953) were the Ulster hosts before the tournament was discontinued after 1953.

Carrolls revived the Irish Open in 1975 and put it on the map as a top event on the European Tour during their sponsorship years of 1975-1993, but for the last 37 years, the tournament has remained a fixture in the Republic.

Opening up the country's national championship to the North is a positive move -- and for Royal Portrush, it strengthens their hopes of eventually holding the British Open.

Clarke, who lives in Portrush, will attend the media event today.

Irish Independent

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