OK, OK, so Rory’s not here and there won’t be any spectators; it is not at Mount Juliet and it has lost its Rolex Series status, but there is still plenty to appreciate about the return of the European Tour to these shores.
Should we not be grateful we have an Irish Open at all? In a year of a global pandemic and the unprecedented sporting cancellations that followed, to have an international sporting event on the island of Ireland when so much has been lost to Covid-19 is, in itself, a cause for celebration.
Let’s not forget we should have been watching the Ryder Cup this weekend — the biennial ding-dong between Europe and the United States beaming into our living rooms from Whistling Straits, Wisconsin. Instead, we have to wait another year, and The Open Championship too. If European captain Pádraig Harrington can suck it up and tee it up this week at Galgorm, then we should too.
Does it really matter where they play this week?
Mount Juliet in Kilkenny was to stage the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on May 28-31, but it will get its chance, hopefully next year, to host this tournament when the Irish Government restrictions allow it to happen. So thank goodness Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort had the ambition, and permission, to stage it this weekend. Of course there will be no Irish golf fans there to see the action unfold in person, but at least they will be able to watch it on TV, something that seemed like a pipe dream back on March 30 when this event was postponed. Not all European Tour events were so lucky.
Lord knows these past few months have been extremely difficult for every sector of the Irish economy — and that includes the Irish golf industry, one of the main drivers of overseas tourism to this island.
The figures in healthier times are phenomenal, with golf tourism bringing in 200,000 visitors, contributing €270m per annum to the Irish economy, and accounting for 1.7m hotel beds.
That was all but wiped out this year, but having an Irish Open shown on television channels around the world this week is vital to bring back the foreign golfers and their yen, dollars, pesos, and pounds.
The pictures from Galgorm — set to be broadcast to all corners of the globe — will keep Irish golf in the spotlight and foremost in thoughts when the chance returns to start booking golf trips again, thereby protecting thousands of Irish jobs.
Don’t be fooled into thinking it is the norm for touring professionals to travel from event to event by private jet, sign multi-million dollar endorsement deals, and pick up huge winners’ cheques. That is a lifestyle reserved for the game’s elite few.
When golf was shut down by Covid-19 in March, the majority of professional golfers saw their income fall off a cliff. So whatever about reduced prize funds and the Irish Open purse has dropped from being a $7m event on the Rolex Series roster to €1.25m, this week’s tournament is the latest opportunity to get cash flowing again.
Having an Irish Open also means greater opportunities for our homegrown players, with 11 in this week’s field. Three of them are amateurs, for whom their elite season has been drastically reduced by the public health crisis.
And he’s still the reigning Open champion.
Shane Lowry had been in the United States since lockdown began. Like Rory McIlroy, he would have been entirely within his rights to stay put in Florida the week after a major championship and not subject himself to the rigours of playing back-to-back tournaments on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Yet there he will be, on the first tee at Galgorm tomorrow morning, giving it his best shot in support of his national open.
The least we can do is thank him for that by giving this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open our utmost attention.