Lack of sponsorship threatens Euro Tour

AS chief executive officer of the PGA European Tour, George O’Grady, enjoys a lifestyle that most of us can only dream of.

And yet there must be times when O’Grady would prefer almost any other job on the planet.

As the world’s finances grow more and more straitened, he and his team at Wentworth are working harder and harder to retain and improve the status of their Tour but it is becoming an increasingly more onerous task.

O’Grady has been forced to watch the disappearance of sponsors of such prestigious tournaments as the European Open, the British Masters, the English Open and the European Tournament Players Championship, to name but four.

Incredibly, for a country of its size and its undisputed golfing tradition, the BMW PGA Championship has been the only tournament played in England over the past two years.

As a consequence, Wentworth has been turning its attentions more towards Asia where they have become involved in a range of co-sanctioned tournaments, many of them quite lucrative, but in doing so the title “European Tour” has begun to look more like a misnomer.

And things may well get worse before they get better. You have to wonder how long Sir Terry Matthews will keep the Celtic Manor Wales Open running now that the Ryder Cup has come and gone.

And now, the shock decision of ‘3’ to end their association with the Irish Open at least one year ahead of expectation has thrown the future of this country’s flagship tournament into doubt.

The reality is that the event has been hanging on by a thread since the departure of Murphys in 2002. The Cork brewery, and their predecessors, PJ Carroll, presided over the greatest times of the championship and it has since struggled to regain those glory days.

Nissan took up the challenge for four years, Tom Kane at Adare Manor for two, but the last rites were being said over the event late in 2008 when Robert Finnegan of ‘3’ appeared on the horizon.

Sadly, that deal has gone and nobody seems to know where to go from here. Fáilte Ireland were loyal and willing supporters at Killarney and were delighted with the response to their million euro investment. However, no more than any other such body nowadays, their capacity to keep pumping money into the Irish Open must be in doubt, all the more so if there isn’t a title sponsor willing to come on board.

The European Tour, who are planning to announce their schedule for 2011 during the Dubai World Championship next week, have already slotted the Irish Open in for July 28-31 and that date will surely appeal to any company tempted to throw their hat into the ring.

The Tour will issue a statement concerning 3’s decision and the future of the Irish Open this week. It will be awaited with keen interest although I suspect that they are as much at a loss to predict the future as anyone else.

O’Grady has frequently gone the extra mile to ensure the future success of the championship. Indeed, the Tour has bailed the event out in the past, using the funds they derive every four years from the Ryder Cup to bolster the prize funds at tournaments where they felt such action was required. Will they do so again in 2011? And will Fáilte Ireland again come on board as they have done so creditably over the years?

The reality is that unless a title sponsor with deep pockets is discovered, the Irish Open will, at best, revert to being a second-class event. And that would be a great shame.

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