A cautious George O’Grady insisted in Dubai that he has a plan up his sleeve that could ensure that the survival of the beleaguered Irish Open.
As the search goes on for a new title sponsor, the Chief Executive of the European Tour revealed that he will sit down and explain his strategy to several Irish players during this week’s Dubai World Championship.
The decision by telecommunications company 3 to opt out of its sponsorship of the event after just two years of a proposed three-year deal has forced the Tour to delay its planned announcement of the 2011 schedule until next week at the earliest.
The Irish Open has been pencilled in for July 28-31 - the same week as this year’s staging at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club. But making that happen may require the Tour and Failte Ireland to foot the bill of a new sponsor cannot be found.
“I have a strategy which I think will work and I am talking to various people now,” Mr O’Grady said moments before welcoming major winners Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer as honorary Life Members of the European Tour.
“I am sitting down with the Irish players this week as well and cutting them in on my plan - in the absence of anything else.”
Asked if he was positive about the future of the event, the European Tour CEO preferred the term “realistic” when asked about his efforts to secure the necessary financial backing for the event during the biggest economic crisis in the history of the State.
“I am realistic about the future of the Irish Open,” he said. “What do I mean by realistic? Realistic means that together with the minister [for Arts, Sport and Tourism], Mary Hanafin, we are going to work together.
“We would be reluctant to see an Irish Open [disappear] …. even with all the problems the country has at the moment.”
Thanks to profits from the recent Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, the tour has the funds to keep the Irish Open afloat with additional help of tourism body Failte Ireland, which provided €1m of the €3m prize fund on offer in Killarney this year.
Having put the Irish Open back on the map, the tour is reluctant to allow the event to disappear and they are aware that Failte Ireland will have more funds at its disposal in 2012 as it will no longer have a commitment to the Solheim Cup, which will be played at Killeen Castle from September 23-25 next year.
“People put a good effort into Killarney to make the Irish Open so good last year,” Mr O’Grady added. “It had a good, warm feel over the bank holiday weekend with a festival atmosphere and it was really good for the Irish tourism business. The masses of people I spoke to watched it on television in America and said it was very special.”