Enjoying good weather throughout last week, Fota Island drew 104,000 spectators over five days to the European Tour event, won on Sunday afternoon by Finland’s Mikko Ilonen. The tournament’s total attendance from Thursday to Sunday was 97,889, a figure that topped both last year’s Irish Open at Carton House, close to Dublin, and last month’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, the European Tour’s flagship tournament on the outskirts of London.
Whether or not Fota Island will seek a return of the Irish Open in two years, when the tournament is set to head south again after rotating to Northern Ireland and Royal County Down for 2015, Fota chief Woods believes the Munster region has proved itself worthy of holding more events of similar international stature, also citing recent big-name music concerts in Cork at Musgrave Park and Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“There’s an appetite in Cork and Munster for international sport and international events,” Woods told the Irish Examiner.
“Il Divo on Saturday night was a huge success, Bruce Springsteen last summer was a huge success. There is a shortage of international events but if you hold it and when you do it under the right conditions, with the right product, the Munster region proves that it can support these events.
“There’s no doubt there’s an appetite and we saw that here over the weekend. It wasn’t just a golf crowd here, it was the general public. The tented village, the clubhouse, the whole environs really had a good buzz.
“There’s no doubt we want to be involved in bringing international events to Cork, whether they’re golf or other sporting activities that may be based in Fota, there is an appetite here for it. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
Leading Irish finisher Graeme McDowell, who placed in a tie for sixth place on Sunday, certainly relished the Fota buzz as he carried home hopes of a first Irish Open success since Shane Lowry in 2009. “It’s certainly a great appetite-whetter this week. If we got four days of sunshine and crowds like this at Royal County Down, it would be a bit special,” the 2010 US Open champion said.
“But this one would be hard to beat. Fota Island is a very good venue and hopefully we’ll be back here in a couple of years’ time.”
McDowell will next defend his French Open title early next month at le Golf National in Paris before skipping the Scottish Open and heading to Royal Liverpool for the Open Championship ahead of a return to the PGA Tour, starting at the Canadian Open in the build-up to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, and the PGA Championship in Louisville, Kentucky, in mid-August.
“No Scotland, unfortunately,” said McDowell. “I have to go straight to Canada with [sponsor] RBC commitments. [With] Firestone, PGA, it’s too much.”
While McDowell plots his assault on a second Major of his career, another Irish Open hero is targeting European amateur success. Gary Hurley, who made the cut at Fota after a second-round 66, was yesterday named in the Golfing Union of Ireland squad to compete in the European Amateur Team Championship in Finland from July 8-12. The sextet also enter the European Individual Championship.
GUI Ireland squad: Paul Dunne (Greystones), Jack Hume (Naas), Gary Hurley (West Waterford), Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Gavin Moynihan (The Island), Cormac Sharvin (Ardglass). Captain: Padraig Hogan (Elm Park).