Fota keen to lure back Irish Open

Fota Island Resort is in the market to welcome back the Irish Open to Cork "in the not too distant future", as the city and county prepares to bid for a number of spectacular international sporting events on the back of a successful staging of the European Tour event.

Fota keen to lure back Irish Open

Internal reviews conducted by a number of the tournament’s stakeholders have shone a positive light on the execution and impact of the 2014 Irish Open, which was supported by Fáilte Ireland and counted the Fota Island Resort and Cork’s City and County Councils among its sponsors, with the Irish Examiner as an official media partner.

In addition to the 104,000 people who attended the pro-am and four rounds in June, the television coverage reached an estimated 300 million viewers around the world, with more than 160,000 hours broadcast.

That in itself is having a knock-on effect for the region, with Fota Island Resort reporting increased bookings as a result of its staging, and Cork City Council bidding to serve as the departure point for powerboat racing’s world renowned Venture Cup endurance race to Monte Carlo.

“It’s fabulous. Even in the latter half of the year, we’ve seen a lot of Scandinavians, Germans and Dutch visiting and for next year already we’re seeing a stronger flow of UK, European and even North American bookings,” Fota Island Resort director of marketing Seamus Leahy told the Irish Examiner.

“People are telling us they saw us on the coverage or they’re asking ‘tell us a bit more’ because of it. It’s only anecdotal but booking trends were significantly stronger for the second half of this year than for the previous year and the booking trend for next year is a lot stronger than for 2014.

“The big thing for us as well has been the associations we’re making with tour operators, the people who organise golf tours. That’s where I have really seen the benefit from the Irish Open, they’re now putting Cork and Fota on their itineraries.”

Such is the short-to-medium term impact of staging an international event such as the Irish Open that Leahy said Fota would be keen to bring the tournament back to Cork.

“We hosted it in 2000 and 2001 and it has always been a useful tag to be ‘host of the Irish Open’ but its shelf life is probably three to five years in terms of real benefit so it’s good to be a recent host.

“And I’d hope that we’d have it again in the future at some stage. Our view is that it should probably be three to five years before we revisit it.

“It was a fabulous week, we had fabulous weather and a competitive field with a couple of Irish guys competing. The golf course wasn’t beaten up but it was a good test for golf and it would be hard to surpass it from a crowd and whole experience point of view. We had almost universal positivity coming back to us from the people who visited so you’d always be saying, ‘well, how do you trump that?’

“But we’ll take that challenge on again in a few years. When you create these events on your site you build the infrastructure that allow you to host and to host it further. We built and improved our car parks and we lengthened the golf course to allow us to take the event and so those things are there for the future and you wouldn’t want to leave it too long before they become obsolete. But for the most part it’s going to be hard to trump what we did last year.”

With Royal County Down hosting the tournament in 2015 and Lough Erne announced as the 2017 venue, the next staging of the Irish Open in the Republic of Ireland is set for 2016, although that may be a little soon for Fota. Leahy cautioned: “You’d never say ‘never’ but two of the next three years are signed up. We would like it back in the not distant future so we wouldn’t rule it out.”

Damien O’Mahony, the head of Cork City Council’s Tourism, Events, Arts & Marketing, praised the efforts of the European Tour and Fota Island Resort’s owners, the Kang family, and staff as well his counterparts on the county council for playing their part in staging such a successful tournament inside and outside the course. He added the event had also showcased the city and its ability to stage international events in the future.

“The way the tournament was set up by the European Tour and Fota Island in the county council’s backyard and the weather we enjoyed that week meant the coverage we got was fantastic and made Cork look to be staging a truly international standard event that will allow us to stand up in any company.

“And when people do come to Cork on foot of watching the Irish Open or last week’s MTV event in the city, I genuinely think their expectations aren’t shattered because we offer something very, very good from the food and the shopping to the people here. All of these events, we have the credential of having held them now and when we bid for future events we’ll have the references of organisations such as the European Tour to back that up. We (successfully) bid for the Fleadh Cheoil 2016 and used the experiences of those various events, including the Irish Open, in testimonials. Hopefully they concluded we must be doing something right.

“We’re looking at the Venture Cup which is a big powerboat racing event held in Monaco for a number of years as our harbour really defines Cork and we would love to get some more spectacular international events like the Irish Open.

“We can stand up there with the best with the raw materials we have to offer so we’re saying ‘you bring the television cameras and the expertise of running these events and we’ll make all the rest happen’. I think the Irish Open in Cork showed that. Of course the Irish Open has to be in Ireland but it demonstrated that in terms of accommodating events of this scale, you can do something quite spectacular in Cork.”

While the Irish Open enjoyed an international television audience, those actually attending the event were mostly residents in the Munster region, according to estimates and Declan Daly, county council’s divisional manager for South Cork, said a return to Fota for the tournament would see an even better job done to draw in ticket sales from elsewhere in the country.

“I think if we were doing things differently in the morning we might make more of an effort to promote it around the country than we did,” Daly said. “We made some effort to put billboards up around Dublin in key areas and maybe we’d go further afield if we were doing it again but the short run-in of five months from when it was decided it was coming here limited us in what we could do, but we learned as we went along.

“We’d be delighted to have other sporting events, of course. Would we get the Tour back? I suppose the issue there is really more to do with sponsors than anything else. We were told by tournament director Antonia Beggs that the support they got here was ‘unprecedented’ and I’d say they’d be well disposed to us if there was an opportunity to come back. The reality, though, is that if they did find a major title sponsor that they would be the ones calling the shots as to where it goes, as opposed to the Tour.

“Having said that, we proved we did a good job the last time and any company considering taking the plunge and bringing it back here would be very much assured of our active support.

“And because we’re maybe a little bit smaller than some other places, we have an intimacy here.

“We can get people together, working co-operatively towards an end goal. That’s what happened this year and it was very successful.”

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