Rory McIlroy’s presentation speech hit all the right notes but a “see you soon” as a sign off will be music to the ears of of Dubai Duty Free chiefs.
With efforts on-going to pump up the prize fund of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open from €4m to €7m over the next few years, a win by McIlroy makes selling the tournament a far easier prospect than explaining why the big star had missed the previous three cuts.
Where the event goes from here might seem like the burning question of the hour and if everything was up to the host, it would be heading for a links course the week before The Open sooner rather than later.
But the reality is Rory McIlroy is the embodiment of the event now — just as the Spanish Open was defined by Seve — and while not everyone will like that, it assures its future.
The nuts and bolts of how to make it work financially for the European Tour and the Rory Foundation is now up to the powers at Wentworth and Keith Pelley, the Chief Executive.
Moving dates around on the schedule is similar to manipulating a Rubik’s cube. Just when you think you have one face in place, you’ve changed the other and getting the exact combination requires a series of dextrous moves.
Keeping Dubai Duty Free, McIlroy and the other strong European Tour events happy at the same time is almost impossible, especially when you must add Ireland’s North-South political axis into the equation.
With the event due to move back north of the border next year, noises emanating from the McIlroy camp after Sunday’s epic win were very much in the vein of staying at The K Club for one more year being something of a no-brainer.
The logic would be that the event could then return north in 2018, leaving the way clear for all comers, such as Donald Trump’s Doonbeg or Ballyliffin to chase it in 2019.
“What better venue that this,” was the view from McIlroy’s stable when it came to the main man’s game.
A big parkland course suits McIlroy down to the ground, as he proved on Sunday. The K Club also ticked many boxes for the big stars.
Title sponsors Dubai Duty Free are also keen to remain there, as executive vice chairman Colm McLoughlin explained last week.
“We’ve signed up for three years,” he said of their commitment to the tournament. “We have an option to have two further years after that, which will bring it to 2020. When we do an event we have it assessed afterwards to see what the media value to Dubai was and the media value to Dubai Duty Free.”
The media value of Sunday would have been considerable but the sponsor does not have the final word.
“We have no idea where it’s being held next year,” McLoughlin said. “We were recommending for a long time it be held at The K Club and we’re delighted it is. I think it’s a fantastic venue, near the airport, near Dublin.
“I guess the crowd that attend this week would be a deciding factor in where it might be held next year and while I would think we’d have a say in it I think it’s really the Tour that decides.” If the tour decides on crowd numbers alone, a move to Portstewart next year may indeed come to pass.
The weather didn’t help and the traditional reluctance of golf fans to head for The K Club was evident in the figures.
While 85,179 attended the four tournament days at Killarney in 2011, followed by a record 112,280 at Royal Portrush in 2012, some 81,379 at Carton House, 97,889 at Fota Island and 91,317 at Royal County Down last year, the figure of 75,861 for the four tournament days last week was down some 20% on the five-year average.
Dubai Duty Free would like to see the event “from a purely selfish point of view”, staged “very close to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby” which in on June 25 this year, “Either the week before it or the week after, which would suit us fine,” McLoughlin said. “But the schedule of the Tour, I don’t know.” The week after the Derby would coincide with the Open de France but switching post the 2018 Ryder Cup is not quite so simple as the French Open tennis at Roland Garros is always played over two weeks from late May to early June.
McIlroy’s dream is to host the event as a warm up for The Open and so attract the best Americans and world stars.
“I would love The Irish Open to have a later date,” he said at his post tournament press conference, emphasising the verb love. “[It’s] something we’re currently trying to see what we can do.” Even if attendances were down, the McIlroy factor and passion of Irish fans will drive it forward.
“Irish golf fans are the best in the world,” the champion said. “Rain or shine, hailstones, lightning; we had it all this week. We had all the four seasons in one day basically. They still come out in droves. The Irish Open, and any tournament that’s put on in Ireland, is always so well supported and so well attended.”
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