Government’s Irish Open lethargy worries golf chiefs

Rory McIlroy might be big box office, but the Irish Open still needs a commitment from the Irish Government to ensure the event builds on the momentum of what promises to be an 80,000 sellout at Royal County Down next May.

Government’s Irish Open lethargy worries golf chiefs

That was the stark message from the European Tour’s commercial director James Finnigan, who fears that Fáilte Ireland are set to pull away from the event in the future despite having done “the hard yards” by sticking with it through the recent dark years.

With the attendance at Royal County Down next May 28-31 limited to 20,000 a day due to the confined spaces at the famed Newcastle links, fans are being urged to book their tickets before December 31 to avoid missing out on what promises to be the best Irish Open field ever assembled.

And with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board keen to make hay out of hosting at Royal County Down in 2015 and Lough Erne in 2017, the European Tour cannot understand why there appears to be no golf tourism policy in place, not just for the Irish Open’s return in 2016, but even next year.

Fáilte Ireland reduced its Irish Open investment to just €1m at Fota Island this year and even though world No 1 McIlroy has given the event a huge lift by deciding to host it through his Rory Foundation, the lack of initiative from the Irish tourism body has set alarm bells ringing at Wentworth.

Even with Rickie Fowler likely to be joined by several US Walker Cup stars from that 2007 winning team from Royal County Down in FedEx Cup 1-2 Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk, not to mention 2012 US Open champion Webb Simpson (Dustin Johnson is another potential starter despite his current leave of absence from the PGA Tour) the European Tour fears a total pullout by Fáilte Ireland in the future.

“There’s uncertainty, going forward,” Finnigan said of the level of investment in 2016. “The Irish Government’s strategy on golf tourism for the next two years has yet to be determined and we hope they stay with us.

“I can confidently say that a golf tourist will come and spend two and a half to three times as much as a normal tourist and that’s the reason why the Northern Ireland government is so keen to invest in the European Tour.

“They see the benefits than can be gained from golf and we need to get that level of commitment from the government in Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. We need them to maintain their interest in the Irish Open not just for 2016, which has yet to be determined, but for 2015.”

With no venue confirmed for a 2016 staging in the Republic and little interest from the commercial sector so far, Finnigan said: “The field for the 2015 Irish Open is going to be unprecedented. So it’s hard to understand why any investor would be thinking of walking away, having done the hard yards and come through the worst economic crisis since the formation of the State. Why do that when you have weathered the storm and the economy is picking up?”

Tickets are already on sale and early birds can save £10 if they book by December 31 before prices rise from £25 to the normal gate price of £35 from January 1, 2015.

Children under 16 will go free as long as they are accompanied by an adult.

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