Saturday 16 December 2017

Sponsors happy to raise the stakes as McIlroy's Open vision takes shape

Rory McIlroy will miss this year's WGC-Bridgestone
Rory McIlroy will miss this year's WGC-Bridgestone

Dermot Gilleece

By the end of this decade, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will have recaptured much of its former glory as a significant international event, with a prize fund of up to €7m. This is the belief of the title sponsors going into this year's staging at The K Club.

It is the vision which prompted Rory McIlroy to put his full weight and that of his Foundation behind the championship. And it is shared by Colm McLoughlin, executive vice-chairman of Dubai Duty Free, who was initially attracted to the event because of McIlroy's involvement.

"In keeping with the considerable reputation of the tournament, I think it's important that the prize money has gone up to €4m this year," said McLoughlin. "And our hope is that the European Tour would see fit to have it raised possibly to €7 million in the future.

"I think Rory's objective of restoring the Irish Open to the higher echelon of international events is a very viable aspiration. And we would be very happy to be involved in that process.

"If you take where I live in Dubai, the Irish population was no more than 250 when I first went there in 1983. There are now 8,500 visas issued to Irish passport holders in the United Arab Emirates. So this tournament has a big following, even there."

Though he wouldn't disclose his company's percentage of the tournament fund, McLoughlin made it clear that they would be prepared to proportionately increase their input, to support its continued growth. Having initially got involved for last year's staging at Royal Co Down, they are now embarking on a three-year deal with the option of a two-year extension up to and including 2020.

McIlroy has already nailed his colours to the mast. "It's really helpful that the European Tour share my vision, which is to try and make the Irish Open not only one of the biggest events on their schedule, but one of the biggest in the world," he said. "And while I try to give something back to Irish golf, my Foundation can help people who desperately need our help."

As to the controversy surrounding the decision not to go to Lough Erne next year, as earlier flagged, McLoughlin said: "We have had a say in the decision to bring it to The K Club, but I don't want to pretend that we have an 80 per cent say in where it goes in the future. All I will say is that we are happy to have it alternate North and South in the knowledge that European Tour officials don't take those sort of decisions without discussing them with us."

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