Irish boost with Amex’s return to Mount Juliet

IRELAND’S stature as the leading golf destination in Europe was further strengthened by yesterday’s confirmation that the WGC American Express Championship is returning to Mount Juliet in 2004.

It will take place on September 30-October 3 with prize money of $7 million dollars (€6m), the largest ever on the continent of Europe.

That’s an increase of $1m on this year’s tournament with a massive $1.2m going to the winner. The purse is $2m more than the total on offer in the inaugural Amex Championship at Valderrama in 1999 and $1.5m up on Mount Juliet in 2002.

The support of the Irish Tourist Board has been hugely instrumental in bringing the world’s greatest golfers back to these shores for the second time in three years.

The continuation of their plan to attract tourists here through the promotion of major tournaments will see world number one Tiger Woods back at the superb Co. Kilkenny complex where he played 71 holes without dropping a shot before finally taking a bogey at the 72nd.

John O’Donoghue, the Minister for Sport and Tourism, made a telling point yesterday when remarking: “The success of the 2002 championship has entered golfing folklore.

Even more important was the impact made by the magnificent images of Mount Juliet and Ireland carried by television networks all over the world.

“Literally millions of viewers tuned into golf in Ireland over those four days. Events such as this do much to enhance our reputation not simply as a golfing destination but as a quality tourism destination.”

Woods was an impressive winner on a week of magnificent weather.

He himself was loud in his praise of Mount Juliet, whose greens he agreed were the best the professionals had putted on all year while he also commented: “The crowds were fantastic throughout the week, gracious and knowledgeable.

“The most fun you can have is when you play in front of fans who appreciate what a really good shot is. It was almost as if they were saying, ‘thank you for coming and competing’. That was cool. I’ve enjoyed my many visits to Ireland and it was nice to find Mount Juliet in such outstanding condition.

“Winning the Amex there made it even more special.”

It is undoubtedly a major undertaking on Mount Juliet’s part to house such a major event so soon again.

They were extremely fortunate with the weather in 2002, which contributed in no small way to Tiger’s staggering winning total of 263, 25 under par, and even then he had only a single stroke to spare over Retief Goosen.

The championship is scheduled for two weeks later next year so all concerned are taking more of a chance with the fickleness of the Irish weather.

It will also be played a fortnight after the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, Detroit, as against last year when it was held the week before the biennial contest between the United States and Europe.

Coincidentally, this season’s Amex Championship begins in Atlanta on Thursday with Ireland’s top two Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington in the field. Both men last night were delighted to see Mount Juliet confirmed as the 2004 venue.

“This is great news for Irish golf“, said Clarke, a two-time world championship winner. “Mount Juliet is a fantastic venue and is always prepared to the highest standards. The spectators had a wonderful feast of golf first time round and no doubt they’ll be out once again in large numbers.”

Harrington, the one-time tournament pro at Mount Juliet, said: “As an Irishman, I was proud to see all of the world’s best golfers at Mount Juliet last year when we enjoyed a great week of glorious sunshine. It should be an equally successful championship next autumn.”

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