Irish Open will take place

HE may not have a sponsor or a venue but Ken Schofield, executive director of the PGA European Tour, is adamant there will be an Irish Open in 2003.

In the normal course of events, Schofield would have been in a position to announce his full schedule for next year at some point of the season ending Volvo Masters at Valderrama. But he was admitted there are a few loose ends tie up.

And he didn’t attempt to hide the fact the Irish Open remained one of the major reasons for his delay. While he strongly hinted the sponsorship problem had diminished in recent times, he admitted they still had to come up with a venue.

At first glance, that might seem difficult to understand given the number of magnificent courses at the country’s disposal. But they haven’t come up with a venue prepared to put up with the many inconveniences associated with a tournament this size and one also willing to pay a considerable amount of money for the privilege.

Over the past decade the cost to the sponsor of promoting an Irish Open has been offset by the contribution forthcoming from the host venue. The owners of Mount Juliet, Druids Glen and Fota Island have been kind in this regard but they, and others, are baulking at the idea, at least for now. Mount Juliet has just housed a hugely successful American World Championship won by Tiger Woods and look a near certainty to do so again at the end of September, 2004. So they have enough on their hands.

Fota Island, like Mount Juliet, is owned by Killeen Holdings. Dr Tim Mahony’s teams at both venues have done a great job but it seems they would like a rest having put on the last two Irish Opens at the Co Cork venue.

Druids Glen have always seemed the keenest of the lot to stage major professional events. They had the Irish Open for four years in succession and this year took on the Seve Trophy. Their on site Marriott Hotel is now up-and-running and a second Pat Ruddy lay-out is nearing maturity.

But the word is out they aren’t interested at the moment. They are a seriously big green fee taking operation and probably believe they are better off welcoming in people who pay for playing there rather than the other way around

While Ken Schofield is more sanguine about the sponsorship situation than he had reason to be over the past few months, the situation remains unclear. The Irish cause hasn’t been helped by the news their traditional late June date had been given to a new, super rich 5m French Open.

Murphys, the sponsors of the Irish Open since 1994, must be viewing all of this with a jaundiced eye. They had a clause in their contract that no other tour event would take place in this country within a month of the Irish Open.

This was flouted when the Smurfit European Open boasting bigger prize money and with its owners injecting huge money into the 2006 Ryder Cup demanded a better date for their event.

They got their way, but at the expense of seeing the two Irish tournaments run back to back, something the Tour and most of their players believed to be a great idea but one not favoured by Murphys, who more than a little understandably believed a certain degree of trust had been broken.

They still hung in there for three more years but this factor influenced their eventual decision to pull out this year.

Consequently, the Tour must bear some of the responsibility for losing the Murphys sponsorship and will now have to cough up some of their own money to keep the event alive.

The Irish Open next year will almost certainly be played on July 24-27, the week after the Open Championship. That has been the traditional date of the Dutch Open but their sponsor, TNT, has also pulled out. Next year, it will be a multi-sponsored event. Schofield’s plan is to push them a fortnight ahead to give them more time to put their plans together.

The word from Holland is that they are less than happy with the proposed arrangement and with a grave doubt concerning the English Open and one or two more tournaments, nobody should run away with the idea that the Irish Open is the only problem confronting the Tour.

Where the tournament takes place next year, I don’t know. I can’t imagine a private club coming up with the money. The big three of Mount Juliet, Fota and Druids Glen have, apparently, ruled themselves out of the equation. The new Carton House complex in Co Kildare isn’t yet ready. There has been talk of Adare Manor.

When Schofield insists there will be an Irish Open, it’s as good as a done deal. Presumably, it will be funded by a number of bodies, a commercial sponsor, the Tour itself, Bord Fáilte and a few subsidiary supporters. I understand the tourist board rejected a suggestion from the Tour that they discontinue the North West of Ireland Open and it will take place again next August, possibly back at Slieve Russell.

What is pretty certain is that the Seve Trophy in 2003 will take place at neighbouring San Roque the week after the Volvo Masters at Valderrama.

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