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Dublin: 12°C Monday 17 May 2021

In the swing: Open season in Killarney, but where's the love?

What does the Irish Open need to do to return to its former glory? Neil Cullen takes a look.

Graeme McDowell tees off during the pro-am before last year's Irish Open in Killarney.
Graeme McDowell tees off during the pro-am before last year's Irish Open in Killarney.
Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

THIS WEEK SEES the Irish Open take place at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club.

It is an event that has suffered slightly over recent years, to the point that when mobile phone company 3 pulled its sponsorship for this year’s event, there was very much a struggle to find a willing replacement.

That was maybe also a sign of difficult economic times as much as a reflection on the event itself, but there’s no doubt that the Irish Open has struggled to replicate the appeal it had in the 80s and early 90s when 12 winners in a row were Major Champions.

This year, though, is a significant step for the tournament. The recent success of Irish golf, stretching from Padraig Harrington’s first Major in 2007 right through to Darren Clarke’s British Open triumph just 9 days ago, means that this is one of the most anticipated Irish Opens in a long time.

The fact that the Irish Major Champions are all making an appearance gives the event significant profile and is far more attractive for advertisers and sponsors.

Not only that, but their presence also makes the event more appealing to other tour players. For many players, chances to pit themselves against Major champions are few and far between.

Add to that the added ranking points that will be on offer for having even a few players in the top 20 or 30 in the world and you’re looking at yet another positive.

The tournament does have some way to go. The fact of the matter is, Irish golf is having a purple patch and the Irish Open is developing on the back of that, and rightly so. We may never again have such a rich period of success and it would be a great shame not to capitalise on all the marketing and promotional opportunities that go along with having Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke at the tournament.

Perfect opportunity

The big challenge, however, is for the tournament to return to a certain level of self-sufficiency and not have to piggy-back on the success of Irish golf, rather to use it as a platform or a springboard for future development.

Easier said than done.

Weather and scheduling are just two factors which have negatively impacted on the Irish Open in recent years. How could we forget the 2006 edition of the tournament played at Carton House — a complete washout.

There were also a couple of years when the tournament was being held in May. May is slightly unfortunate for the European tour events as many of the high profile players decide to travel Stateside to take in events such as The Players Championship and build up to the US Open in mid-June.

Unfortunately, both of those factors are very much out of the control of tournament organisers.

Scheduling, indeed, can be crucial in deciding the calibre of player a tournament can attract. With the USPGA Championship and WGC Bridgestone Invitational on the near horizon, many of the world’s best are either taking a rest week or have decided to begin their preparations in America this week at the Greenbrier Classic.

The bigger the event, the better it is placed on the schedule, but it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. When it an event gets big, it gets a good spot on the schedule, but how does it become a big event without having a good spot on the schedule?

From Seve Ballesteros in 1983 to Bernhard Langer in 1994, every single Irish Open winner was or became a Major Champion. That was arguably the most successful period in the history of European golf.

Today we are going through a similarly fruitful period, although not yet quite as extended in terms of duration, and it has been a great fillip for the European tour. The Irish Open now has the perfect opportunity to capitalise on the success of our golfers, begin to rebuild a legacy and make itself one of the most attractive events on tour once again.

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