Alliss in wonderland

“TALK to Simon Alliss,” advised one tour pro a few weeks back, “he’s a really interesting character.”

Indeed he is. And somehow the man responsible for managing close on everything outside the ropes at this week’s 3 Irish Open successfully treads that fine line between enthusiasm and excess. Therefore when he declares that the Irish Open is his No 1 event to set up every year, you tend to give him the benefit of the doubt. Alliss’ passion for what he does is every bit as engaging as his legendary dad, commentator Peter, delivering the bon mots to BBC viewers at 79.

“I know it sounds corny,” the 35-year-old Englishman conceded, “but the Irish (Open) is my favourite. This is my fourth or fifth, I know every contractor, and this country has become one of the first places in the world where if I was strapped for a few quid and needed some help, or needed a bed, I could phone about 25 people and I’d get sorted.”

Perhaps the fact that he’s married less than two months, and has spent one of those in Killarney preparing for this week, is conclusive proof this is his second love: “A two-week honeymoon, back for two days and then off again for five weeks,” he smiles sheepishly.

“I’ve already experienced my first marital ‘I can’t believe you’re off again’ conversation.”

If the Tour could only connect Alliss’ up and at ‘em attitude to mainframe public interest, we could be looking at the most successful, riotous Irish Open in living memory.

Weather permitting, there does seem to be a real sense of anticipation about this year’s 3 Irish Open.

“The long-range forecast appears to be good for the Bank Holiday weekend, and that may just be the clincher for us.

“A sunny Sunday climax would be perfect,” he says, looking over his shoulder at the 18th green. “We’ve been quite unlucky at the Irish Open in recent years with weather, but there are other key elements that can make a tournament.

“The field is one, and the Irish are so passionate about their players, who are all going very well at the moment.

“Also the sponsor is critical and 3 have very much taken this open out to the people. There’s less golf in Ireland than there used to be, and while everyone knows when a big match is on, when it’s a once a year Open championship it’s key to keep this event at the forefront of people’s minds. 3 has done that.”

The sponsors, the Tour, Killarney Golf Club and the local businesses all appear to be working off the one hymn-sheet which has made for a positive build up for those charged with getting things right inside and outside the ropes.

Alliss, as Championship manager, is putting the final touches to the largest tented village ever seen at an Irish Open. The message is not just that the 3 Irish Open is bigger than ever – it’s also that there’s more for everyone, and that includes families.

“We’re hoping to deliver a product that people want to see,” explains Alliss. “Some still see golf as fuddy-duddy and dull but it’s not. We are putting on an event here, and 3 and the Killarney Summerfest organisers, we’re all rolling together to make this day and evening entertainment. Yes the weather is key, because if the cameras are panning around and there are loads of people milling around, the tournament immediately feels like a success – let’s be honest, there’s nothing worse than having a scene where there’s no one around the course.”

Alliss is in Killarney for the past month. The tented village is six weeks in planning and the Tour has had a man on site since June 28. The organisers won’t depart until the Killeen and O’Mahony’s Point courses are left as they would like them.

“The job of Championship manager is effectively managing the whole site,” explains Alliss. “If anything goes wrong, it will effectively be my fault.

“The European Tour are joint owners of this event with Fáilte Ireland and 3, but we are responsible for the entire infrastructure – that’s everything outside of the ropes. David Probyn and his team of referees does everything inside.”

And Championship director Ben Watson pulls all the strands together, working with Probyn and the players, liaising with the sponsors and generally ensuring the event is delivered successfully and within budget.

“The players look for a good, practical level of comfort,” Watson says, “a good, fair course that they can get to and from easily. That is their office, and they want a situation where they can go about their day job without being harassed or have too many distractions, but also be surrounded by an atmosphere that gives them a buzz.

“It’s a balance.”

Alliss concurs, and has a sense that the tour pros will enjoy their time in Kerry – and will want to return.

“You need sponsors like 3 and Fáilte Ireland to continue to make it one of the strongest events on the tour. Golf in Ireland is very strong but the weather’s been bad for Irish Opens. However everyone is aiming for the same target here now – to get back to the peaks like Portmarnock and the Carrolls Irish Open. This is my fourth or fifth Irish Open, and the last few have been building things back up again.”

Because this is a Ryder Cup year, a number of the Tour’s senior managers have been totally focused on Celtic Manor in recent months, putting a strain on the rest of the team. Typically Alliss will do five events a year as championship manager, from the Portugal Masters at the Oceanico Victoria in October to Dubai at year’s end.

However, he’ll also do the Scottish Seniors and a few Challenge Tour events which he enjoys; “You don’t have a budget, so you’re more hands on and have to do things yourself, which is good,” he declares.

It’s an easy assumption that Simon ended up in the golf business through the good offices of his father, but it would be incorrect. Though he’s a seasonal golfer off eight, Simon Alliss was never pushed into golf. “I was working in IT recruitment, I ran a pub for a friend and then this opportunity came up...”

And how is Dad, who just happens to be in the commentary booth at St Andrews as we speak?

“Extremely well. Listening to him there is like sitting at home at the dinner table. He’s funny and quirky, whether it’s about the birds in the bird box outside or golf related topics. He just notices little things...”

And then he’s off again, chatting on the phone, cajoling, organising, building it all up: “You feel it when you come in here,” he says, turning around to the course. “There’s a good buzz, it’s not like the circus comes into town and then leaves. No, everybody’s really keyed up for this event, there’s a real vibe that the Irish Open is here and this is a moment to make the club shine. Look at that landscaping... everything is ready to give the Irish Open the platform it deserves.”


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