The failure to find a replacement for mobile phone company 3, which pulled out after Killarney in 2011 a year ahead of expectation, is a big disappointment for the European Tour at a time when so many big name home players indicated their intention of competing. Instead, they will depend on the ongoing support of Fáilte Ireland and a number of subsidiary sponsors to keep the prize fund at €2 million.
“We continue to try and find a title sponsor and we know there is a company out there interested in taking it on,” said the Tour’s commercial director James Finnegan. “Others are sitting on their hands but we are satisfied we have a portfolio of blue chip companies currently supporting the event. As long as the Irish Government and George O’Grady, [chief executive] of the European Tour, believes in the tournament, there will be an Irish Open.”
The Tour are intent on maintaining the tournament’s stature with, championship director Antonia Beggs announcing yesterday they are spending €50,000 on grandstands surrounding the par-three 17th green. It is hoped this will generate an atmosphere, while a bar will be located nearby. However, Finnegan warned: “If there are any problems, we will have people in position to take action. But we know the Irish public, as always, will show due respect for all concerned”.
Another initiative Beggs described as unique on the European Tour is a three towns concept involving nearby Maynooth, Leixlip and Celbridge, which it is hoped will create a festival spirit.
“We feel these two exciting new initiatives will add to the sense of fun and community,” she said. “This tournament is the perfect vehicle to tap into Ireland’s well known sense of fun and community. We will have a Super Saturday incorporating the Lions rugby Test match on the big screen followed by the golf and later still the Irish Derby at the Curragh.”
The tournament returns to the Colin Montgomerie-designed Carton layout after being bedeviled by dreadful weather conditions in 2005 and ’06. The course was still in its infancy at the time but has matured splendidly with wider fairways and cut back rough.
“The course will still be a stiff test but the fans and the players alike want to see some red numbers,” said Finnegan. “The fact that we are spending €50, 000 on the stands at the 17th demonstrates how seriously we are taking the tournament. It is very gratifying to see corporate hospitality has been sold out for Thursday, Friday and Sunday and ticket sales so far are ahead of Carton in 2006.”
Other Irish professionals in the field include Brendan McGovern, John G Kelly, Barrie Trainor, Cian McNamara, David E Ryan, Donal Mooney, David Higgins from the Irish Region order of merit and invitee Seamus Power from West Waterford.
Welshman Jamie Donaldson, a highly-impressive winner at Portrush last year, defends his title while the Molinari brothers, Thongchai Jaidee, Simon Khan, Ross Fisher, David Lynn, Brett Rumford, Thomas Bjorn, Richard Finch, and Jose-Maria Olazabal will also feature.