Killarney fears losing Irish Open despite Tour’s denials

THE European Tour insisted yesterday no final decision has been made on the venue for the 2012 Irish Open — despite suggestions from Tour chief George O’Grady that the tournament will be boosted by “an exciting new package” next year.

Indications from the Tour finale in Dubai on Sunday pointed to a 2012 return to Dublin next June, which has come as a surprise and disappointment to Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, the successful host for the event over the last two years.

Tour sources insisted last night that “no final decision” has been made on the 2012 venue and Killarney remained in the running for a third successive year.

“This is the first we have heard of it,” reported Maurice O’Meara, general manager of Killarney last night. “We have been in contact with the European Tour and assured them that we would be happy to stage the tournament for a third successive year. We are awaiting information about the situation and don’t want to say anything that might jeopardise our chances of again doing so in 2012.

“However, if the reports are true, then of course we would be very disappointed. We have had two fantastic years and felt we were playing our part in re-establishing the Irish Open as one of the leading tournaments on the European Tour schedule and had our own ideas as to how to make it even better in the future. The player feed back was extremely positive as was that from the Tour. We catered for 86,500 spectators this year, the atmosphere was terrific and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves.”

European Tour chief executive O’Grady returned last night from Dubai where the final tournament of the 2011 campaign ended on Sunday with little to add to his weekend comment that “an exciting new package” is being put together to bring the Irish Open back to Dublin. He simply reiterated: “The situation is under review and we hope to announce the venue before Christmas.”

Carton House is more than willing to host the 2012 Irish Open on the Montgomerie Course for the third time. Conor Mallaghan, the managing partner at Carton House Hotel and Golf Resort, indicated last night that they are ready to listen to all comers.

“If the opportunity presented itself again, we’d throw our hat into the ring,” Mr Mallaghan said. “There has been some talk about it coming back to the Dublin area from Killarney but the choice of venue is a matter for the various stakeholders in the event — the European Tour, Fáilte Ireland and the title sponsor, if one has been found.

“While we’d be delighted to host the event once again, I must point out that this is all purely hypothetical at the moment and will remain so until the various stakeholders make their decision.

“I will say that it’s imperative that a decision is made this side of Christmas. To go into the new year without a firm decision would not do anyone any good. From the marketing, sponsorship and ticketing perspective, it’s important to make the decision as soon as possible.”

O’Grady’s reference to “an exciting package” will also be interpreted as an indication that a new sponsor is about to come on board.

It remains to be seen whether a capital city that already has a surfeit of major sporting and cultural events can rival the spectator numbers and the sense of occasion that made the two years in Killarney such an outstanding success. The Irish Open was last played in Dublin in 2003 and won at Portmarnock by New Zealander Michael Campbell.

While a return to Portmarnock or another great links such as Royal Dublin would certainly lend considerable prestige to the tournament, all the more so as it is set to take place on June 28-July 1, three weeks before the British Open at St Andrews, it remains to be seen whether either club would have the capacity or indeed the desire to stage a modern-day Irish Open.

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