Prestigious Irish Open sure to lure top players to Adare Manor

THESE are tough times for the Irish Open Golf Championship when a prize fund of €2.5million, an increase of €300,000 from last year, hardly raises any eyebrows.

It is a handsome sum but nowadays is eclipsed by several other tournaments on the European circuit. Thankfully, the majority of top players place more emphasis on prestigious titles rather than the purse and that’s the chief reason to hope the field at Adare Manor on May 17-30 will be of high quality.

There are factors weighing for and against this. The Robert Trent Jones designed lay-out is a major plus. It is widely regarded as one of the finest in these islands and comfortably maintains the high standard of previous venues, great links like Portmarnock, Royal Dublin, Ballybunion, Baltray and parkland courses such as Killarney, Mount Juliet, Druids Glen and Carton House.

It’s also an advantage to have a nearby airport, high-class hotel and guest house accommodation and restaurants. There are few nicer villages in the country than Adare.

But there still are factors militating against the success of the Irish Open. The date is crucial. In the hey-day of the event, it was staged in the summer months when the weather was usually kind, the schools were on holidays and families could enjoy a good day out at the tournament.

Nowadays, the championship takes place in mid May when the elements can be unkind, something the Mallaghan family, owners of the splendid Carton House complex, discovered to their cost in the last two years. The rain poured down, the winds blew and a lovely venue turned into a sodden mess. And the crowds stayed away.

Furthermore, this year the major changes in the US Tour schedule mean that the Irish Open is sandwiched between the Players Championship at Sawgrass, the event the Americans call the 5th major, and the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, the most important tour event on this side of the Atlantic.

The concern is that leading players will see the week of the Irish Open as a good one to take off.

Tom Kane, managing partner of Adare Manor, is a former Vietnam war pilot and not short on courage and foresight. He reckoned the tournament: “needed a fresh approach if it was to reclaim its rightful position as one of Europe’s premier events”.

One way he believed this could be achieved was to stage it at Adare without a title sponsor.

“I believe that we should operate in the same manner as The Open and the Masters,” Kane maintains. “Thanks in no small part to the generous patronage of all our newly announced partners, we are in a position to present this year’s tournament as we wished. We will continue to increase prize money over the next three years in order to attract an even higher calibre of player.

“The support in recent years for events in Adare Manor such as the Irish Seniors Open and the JP McManus Pro-Am gives a fantastic indication of the sporting culture of the region and I have no doubt that the general public will get behind it”

EUROPEAN TOUR chief executive George O’Grady is only partially correct when claiming that “the Irish Open sits proudly on the European Tour schedule with a list of past champions that stands comparison with the best”.

True, there were times when only the best needed to apply: Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Jose-Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, Michael Campbell.

Of that group, only Monty and Sergio have yet to capture a major championship.

However, also there are people like David Carter, Patrik Sjoland, Soren Hansen, Brett Rumford and Stephen Dodd. That level of champion would hardly set the pulses racing and tellingly most were successful in the recent past. It would also help, of course, if the Irish contingent could get themselves into the picture with John O’Leary in 1982 the last to keep the title at home.

Given decent weather, television coverage of the championship set to reach a global audience with almost 450 hours of live coverage reaching more than 30 countries should help to maintain Ireland’s status as one of the world’s finest golf holiday destinations. The majesty of the par five 18th played along the River Maigue and with the awesome manor house in the immediate background is just one of many great holes at Adare that will help to maintain a very enviable reputation.

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