Thursday 20 June 2019

US Ryder Cup stars on hit list as Rory McIlroy mulls Irish Open participation

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy
Tournament host Paul McGinley. Photo: Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy's presence remains uncertain but European Tour officials are working hard to ensure a world-class field will tee it up in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch from July 4-7.

While fans may have to wait until after the Masters to see if McIlroy will answer the call and add the Co Clare spectacular to his schedule, plans to make the $7 million Rolex event a huge party are well advanced.

The Tour and sponsors Dubai Duty Free have been chasing commitments from a host of top players, even producing a promotional video to encourage them to make the trip.

Lee Westwood and former Masters champion Danny Willett have said they will play while approaches have also been made to many leading players who support the European Tour, including several members of the 2018 US Ryder Cup team.

With The Open the final Major of the year now that the US PGA is moving to May, players will likely wait until the Wanamaker Trophy has been presented at Bethpage State Park on May 19 before finalising their schedules ahead of the US Open at Pebble Beach (June 13-16) and the battle for the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush two weeks after Lahinch.

Whatever about the ongoing battle to strengthen the field, an event licence application was recently lodged with Clare County Council.

Traffic

A park-and-ride system will see traffic from the south being diverted through Miltown Malbay to a site near the village of Moy.

Traffic from north Clare will have a park-and-ride facility at Ballyellery, near the old bridge at Liscannor, while traffic through Ennistymon (and the infamous Blake's Corner traffic blackspot) will be restricted to pass-holders.

It's proposed that the Liscannor Road, which runs along the boundary of the links, will be closed during tournament days from early morning until late in the evening with gardaí likely to close the village to traffic.

As for the golf, all groups will start on the first, just as they will at The Open two weeks later.

Paul McGinley has insisted on the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Old Course, which will be a par-70 measuring just over 7,000 yards.

The only concession to the power hitters comes with the conversion of the second (534 yards from the back tee) and fourth (475 yards) from par-fives to par-fours and the construction of a new back tee at the driveable 13th, stretching that great risk-reward hole from 280 yards to around 340 yards.

With the new tee now some 60 yards further back and right, players would be required to carry The Mine and fly the ball over 300 yards to reach the green.

A forward tee at the 15th will also be used as the back tee for the par-five 18th to avoid interfering with the players putting on the Klondyke (fourth).

The tented village is planned for the Castle Course, the TV compound set for lower car park on the promenade and the player's lounge for a spot left of the second fairway.

The club's new short-game academy has been earmarked for corporate hospitality while five new target greens have been added to the practice ground.

Intensive overseeding over all fairways following this summer's heatwave should ensure the course is in pristine condition.

Given the many vantage points available, there will be few structures on the course beyond the grandstands proposed for the first tee and 18th greens.

With no restrictions on re-entry, crowds of up to 25,000 per day will be able to come and go.

Excitement

"There's huge excitement both at home and overseas, especially among the golfing fraternity," said Lahinch Golf Club's general manager Paddy Keane.

"With the tradition of 'the South', there's a huge affinity with Lahinch and the excitement will increase.

"We are very fortunate that Clare County Council and the gardaí are so supportive. All told it will be a busy six months but a lot of fun."

It's likely that the gardaí will close the main street in Lahinch to traffic during tournament days and the event is expected to recruit some 600 volunteers.

As for host McGinley, Mr Keane added: "He's been fantastic. He's been everything we would have expected and more. He's got great ideas and what's really important is that he understands the history and the tradition and heritage of Lahinch. That's why things like starting on the first and finishing on the 18th are really important.

"He wants a festival atmosphere and as anyone who knows Lahinch is aware, you just light the torch and the whole thing will take off. All we need is a good strong field and the right weather conditions and we will have a great, fun week."

Irish Independent

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