The Irish Open at Fota Island drew a bigger crowd than the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA at Wentworth.
With 29,387 packing the resort yesterday the total attendance for the four tournament days was 97,889, with 104,810 attending with the inclusion of Wednesday’s Pro-Am.
That means that the €2m Irish Open beat the BMW PGA Championship, which has a prize fund of €4.75m, by 10,897 spectators.
According to figures released by the European Tour, total attendance at Wentworth was 93,913, with the breakdown over all five days as follows: 23,786 on Sunday (Rd4); 19,244 on Saturday (Rd3); 22,003 on Friday (Rd2); 17,130 on Thursday (Rd1); 17,130 on Wednesday (Celebrity Pro-Am).
At Fota Island there were 29,387 on Sunday, 28,173 on Saturday, 24,151 on Friday, 16,178 on Thursday and 6,921 for the Pro-Am on Wednesday.
European Tour chief executive George O’Grady, is confident the Government and Fáilte Ireland will maintain their level of investment in the Irish Open.
The Government reduced its investment from €1.25m to €1m this year, forcing the Tour to work harder to cover the €2m prize fund. But O’Grady believes the strength of the event is evident and that it represents great value for money for the ‘Ireland’ brand.
“The negotiation [with Failte Ireland] will take place after this tournament but I’d be confident they will see what good value it is for Ireland. It is delivering value.
“After years of what we could call starvation in the North we can see what the Irish Open did for their tourism business and we can probably say that the tourism market has come back in Ireland, showcasing different parts of the country, not just Dublin.
“It worked for Killarney and it will do the same for this area, showcasing all the golf courses and hotels in the area.”
As for the venue for the 2016 Irish Open, O’Grady said: “That’s another discussion and we have to evaluate this week. I would hope that they would be keen to have it back here at Fota Island but we have to think about giving value to Ireland first and individual resorts come second.”
Fota Island’s director of golf Kevin Morris was thrilled with the way the course held up and has no plans to make any changes after what he believes was a very successful Irish Open.
“I’m very happy with how the course played,” said the PGA professional who has spent 21 years at Fota Island. “We put in five new tees and I am happy with those. We don’t need to do a whole lot more. We could have narrowed the fairways but the fans want to see birdies and I think this was as good a set-up as we could have had.”
As for a possible return to Fota Island in 2016, he said: “We’ll see. Nothing has been spoken about internally yet.”
Gary Hurley was the fastest man around Fota Island yesterday as he raced home in 73 blows in the first round of the day.
He was playing alone but holed a 25-footer to finish tied 73rd with 2000 winner Patrik Sjoland on eight over, prompting Dublin golf fan David Curran to tweet: “Birdie on 18, @GaryHurley93 sets the clubhouse target at +8 @IrishOpen2014 . Wind needs to get up about now.”
Hurley saw the funny side, retweeting the remark and he admitted that he learned far more form his 81 on Saturday than the sensational 66 he shot on Friday afternoon.
“I learned a lot more yesterday than I learned any day this week,” he said as he prepared to head to the airport for a flight to England for this week’s Brabazon Trophy.
“There are so many things you can do better. You learn from that, whereas when you have a good round you don’t really think of the things you did badly. You just cherish the good times you had.”
Matthew Fitzpatrick clearly feels right at home in Ireland after finishing tied 29th on his professional debut at Fota Island.
The 19-year-old, who is the first player since Bobby Jones in 1930 to hold the leading amateur honours in the British and US Opens, closed with a 68 to finish on five under par and earn €17,500
He had his first experience of Irish golf in 2009, when he played Mount Juliet with his parents, before playing for Great Britain and Ireland in their 2012 defeat to the Continent of Europe at Portmarnock.
Inspired by the massive Irish galleries, Fitzpatrick said: “I can’t thank the crowds enough. We’ve had a big crowd all week and they have been really supportive of me and it’s really nice to have that for my first professional event.”
As for what he plans to do with his prize money, he joked: “I have no idea what I’m going to do with it. Knowing my dad, he’ll probably say, you can’t spend any of it. Even though it’s mine, he still probably won’t let me spend any of it.”
Club professional John Kelly played superbly for four days but confessed that the difference in standard between the PGA IrishRegion and the European Tour is a yawning abyss.
“I had a frustrating day but I played really well,” Kelly said after a closing 75 left him tied for 58th on one over par. “I’m just not sharp enough, simple as that.”
Kelly earned €5,800 but added: “The score is the score and the score tells the truth. But I had a great opportunity to make a great cheque and I let it slip.
“But then again, coming down the 36th hole on Friday evening I had to make birdie to make the cut.
“It’s the best I’ve played for four rounds at the Irish Open but with a Tour set-up, if you start short-siding yourself, it shows you up. I’m still happy — happy with my week.
“Would I go to Q-School? You never say never but, no, there’s a massive difference in standard between the level these guys play at and where we’re at. You’ve got to raise your standard a huge amount to get onto the Tour now.”