Putting the Women’s Irish Open back on the golfing map was the difficult part but having labelled last week’s renewal at Dromoland Castle a “tremendous success”, Leona Maguire believes a summer date is the best way to make the event bigger and better.
LPGA Tour star Maguire may have come up just short in her bid to win her national title, missing out by a single shot on a three-way play-off ultimately won by Czech golfer Klara Spilkova, but the first Women’s Irish Open in a decade pretty much ticked every other box as it returned to the Ladies European Tour schedule.
For the host course there was the vindication of their gamble to underwrite the tournament and bring it out of hibernation for the first time since 2012, and to attract a title sponsor in KPMG and the crucial support of key stakeholders Golf Ireland, Failte Ireland and Sport Ireland.
They were also rewarded with a final-day crowd on the Co. Clare property of more than 10,000 spectators and a weekly total of 24,000 that far exceeded expectations in relation to other LET events and considering the timing in early autumn.
Yet Maguire would like to see the KPMG Women’s Irish Open staged in the middle of the LET’s summer swing and ahead of the two European majors, as she explained following her closing-round 68 that earned her a tie for fourth place.
“There are a number of factors - I think we were blessed with the weather this week which you can’t plan for. I think the bigger field, if it’s in a summer date we would get a few more LPGA Tour players like we did before when it was in Killeen Castle (in 2012) if it’s on that European stretch, potentially around Evian dates or British Open dates, ideally.
“Also that the (Irish) girls in (US) college(s) are home. A lot of them missed out this week which was a shame. Some of the younger girls got to play which was a great experience for them but there are a few of the college girls who haven’t played in a pro event and it would be a great experience for them so it’s a number of different factors.
“It's in everybody’s best interests that it’s a slightly better date but you can’t fault this week it has been a tremendous success.
“Everybody has been pleasantly surprised. A lot of girls said it has felt like a major this week, by far the biggest crowds they have seen this is not normal for an LET event it’s been incredibly well supported.
“The crowds were huge. Really started to gather on the back nine again, 10,000 through the gates which is a lot for an Irish Open and for it to be the first one in 10 years and the fact it was put together quite last minute as well so hopefully all the people that were here this week come back again next year and were happy with what they saw and a few more come next year.”
Speaking to the Irish Examiner on Sunday, Dromoland Castle director of golf Eamonn O’Donnell explained how the hotel’s owners, including chairman of the board John O’Brien, with support from managing director Mark Nolan, had taken the unusual step of underwriting its rebirth and suggested it was highly likely it would return to the same venue next season subject to an in-house review.
“I think we’ve started something that is only going in one direction and it’s incredibly exciting,” O’Donnell said. “We would be hoping to have it come back here. We are going to have our own review of it in the coming weeks and we do have first refusal on it effectively.
“The first year is always the hardest in terms of bringing the tournament back but we’ve done all the groundwork this year so in one way it would be a shame not to take the fruits of your labour in year two and even beyond that.
“So everything is pointing towards that direction, we just need to sit down between ourselves and our staging partners, who have done an incredible job as well and we’ll hopefully have something concrete in the coming weeks.”
After an investment of more than €2 million on the golf course and a two-and-a-half-year process to bring the idea of renewing the Women’s Irish Open to fruition, O’Donnell revealed the emotional moment when the Dromoland Castle staff knew their hard work had paid off.
“I think all of us when we saw the crowds on 18 on Saturday when Leona made her birdie putt (for a 65 to get back in contention), the image, the sound and the volume of the cheers, and the amount of people there, including young kids, said to us that hard work had paid off and that we really have got a golf tournament back on the pages. It was almost a tear-jerking moment for myself, to see something two-and-a-half years in the making and think, yeah, we’ve got this right."
O’Donnell said the feedback from the players was “incredible” in terms of the golf course, the facilities, and “everything down to the food in the clubhouse restaurant and at the Inn at Dromoland, where they’ve done a tremendous job looking after the players.
“If the players are happy and you give them the right environment they shine and the golf they put on this week is a testament to the way they feel about the place.”