Sport Golf

Friday 15 November 2019

Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy set to be star Irish Open attractions as Mount Juliet gets go ahead


Shane Lowry, left, shares a joke with Rory McIlroy. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Shane Lowry, left, shares a joke with Rory McIlroy. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

Mount Juliet is set to be unveiled as the host course for next year's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, with Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry the star attractions.

The 7,264-yard Jack Nicklaus design in Thomastown will host the $7 million Rolex Series event from May 28-31.

It will be the fourth Irish Open to be staged at Mount Juliet following memorable wins for Nick Faldo (1993), Bernhard Langer (1994) and Sam Torrance (1995).

The venue went on to host the WGC American Express Championship in 2002 and 2004 with Tiger Woods and Ernie Els claiming the spoils in front of huge crowds.

While Paul McGinley took over as host from McIlroy at Lahinch in July, the European Tour has limited options this time around.

With McIlroy stepping away after four years, Darren Clarke busy with his seniors career and Pádraig Harrington focussed on the Ryder Cup, Graeme McDowell may be the best option.

Attracting a strong field will be a challenge for the European Tour with the event taking place two weeks after the PGA Championship and just a week before The Memorial on the PGA Tour.

But Spain's Jon Rahm has promised to defend his title and with world No 2 McIlroy confirming his participation this week, the event is likely to carry healthy world rankings points.

The course is renowned for its conditioning and that will be key to the success of the event, as it was for the three Irish Opens in the 1990s and the two World Golf Championships.

Woods and the rest of the world's best were hugely impressed by the conditioning of the course in 2002 and 2004 and it should be shining in late May.

"I think the golf course is playing absolutely gorgeous out there," Woods said in 2002. "The fairways are perfect. The greens are the best greens we've putted on all year, including the majors. These things are absolutely pure."

Harrington, who represented Mount Juliet as its touring professional early in his career, added: "It sets a standard for Ireland."

The jury is out with regard to the change in date, given past Irish Open experiences in May and the vagaries of the Irish weather.

Forming part of the links swing no longer suits players like McIlroy or Lowry now that the summer schedule has become so condensed following the PGA Championship's move from August to May.

While links courses will host the event again with the likes of Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links and County Sligo keen to enjoy their moment in the sun and Portmarnock Golf Club potentially opening up to female members within the next few years, title sponsors Dubai Duty Free and Rolex pay the lion's share of the bills.

Dubai Duty Free came on board as title sponsor in 2015 and renewed its deal for another two years in 2018 with an option to extend the arrangement to 2021-2022.

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