The certainty now is that the championship, to be played from June 28-July 1, will return to Dublin for the first time since 2003 at Portmarnock.
A high ranking European Tour official told me this week that the tournament will be held at a parkland course in the general vicinity of the capital. That clearly rules out the two obvious links venues, Portmarnock and Royal Dublin, largely because of a gender issue. Neither club admits women as members and accordingly Fáilte Ireland, who remain key part-financiers of the event, could not be associated with either venue.
George O’Grady, the Tour’s chief executive, has been working overtime to put together a package that would safeguard the future of the event for the next three years at least. Top of the priority list is finding a replacement sponsor for 3, who withdrew after the 2010 tournament, and, of course, a host golf course.
The Mallaghan family, owners of Carton House near Maynooth, Co Kildare, have made it clear they are interested in staging the championship, having done so in 2005 and 06 over the Montgomerie course. Druids Glen, Co Wicklow, and the host venue for four years from 1996, is also regarded as a contender.
Only time will tell, however, if the championship will benefit from a move away from Killarney to a venue that doesn’t possess the atmosphere and ambience of the Kerry course.
Maurice O’ Meara, manager of Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, said they were “honoured to host the tournament for two highly successful years which greatly revitalised the European Tour in this country. We are disappointed to learn that the event will not be returning in 2012 but I would like to take the opportunity to wish the European Tour and the new venue every success in 2012”.
He then stressed: “We sincerely look forward to having it return to Killarney in the future”.
Killarney welcomed 82,500 visitors to the town for the 2010 Irish Open. This increased to 86,500 in 2011, the second largest attendance for an event on the European Tour. It was also an increase of 40% on previous years of the tournament. These figures put the numbers at Baltray in 2009 very much in the shade.
Vice-president of Killarney Chamber of Tourism & Commerce, Mike Buckley, explained why Killarney made such a success of the Irish Open — as well as many other significant events.
“From the hoteliers, to the retailers to the service providers, everyone has long recognised the benefits that can be achieved through team effort,” he said.
“It is this mentality that has helped us host two of the most successful Irish Open tournaments to date and win in other areas such as the Tidy Towns competition and most recently being crowned Ireland’s winning business town”.
Mayor of Killarney, Councillor Sean Counihan, also hoped to see the tournament return to the town.
He said: “Killarney has never looked better and there is a huge sense of pride in the community as a result of what we have achieved as a team.”