The European Tour is keen to host the Irish Open in Killarney again next season. And Chief Executive George O’Grady confirmed as much yesterday when he unveiled a 2011 schedule featuring a minimum of 50 tournaments in 29 different destinations with the Irish Open pencilled in for July 28-31.
Keeping his fingers crossed the Failte Ireland will be in a position to inject funds in to the event, O’Grady said: “We are all well aware that 3 have declined to go ahead with the third year of their agreement and that the government and the minister (Mary Hanafin) is still very committed to the tournament.
“They have pledged to work with us to try and find additional commercial sponsorship. I am pretty confident that we can keep it going at reduced prize money and still get ourselves to a break even position, which is quite critical.
“Killarney have been kind enough to give me an option to take the tournament there, which would be my choice.
“Within the next week or two I will probably confirm that with Killarney so that whoever comes in will be selling an Irish Open at Killarney, not wherever a new sponsor wants to go.
“The event at Killarney, in my opinion, was outstandingly successful and I’d like to recreate that for another year, albeit at reduced prize money, unless we get a commercial sponsor.”
O’Grady said he had been talking to a potential sponsor in Dubai but added: “That interest is lukewarm as I speak, but you never know. You have got to start somewhere.”
Padraig Harrington was encouraged by the news about Killarney, adding: “I think the fact they gave it a date and they certainly want it to be there. It’s by no means a certainty but the Tour want it and are very keen to keep an excellent event on the schedule. I think that’s really what they’re saying.
“It’s a good event, it’d be a shame to lose it. They’re going to figure a way out. They badly need a sponsor but at least they are committing to a great date and a venue and it was a great tournament last year.”
O’Grady confessed that he was “disappointed” that 3 did not exercise the option to sponsor the event for a third year.
“I was slightly disappointed,” he said. “They were given an extra two months to go through their evaluation of the sponsorship potential and by all our sponsorship measurement devices, it exceeded all targets. But that is for 3 to decide and it is a big ask for them if they are doing the Irish national football team as well.
“I think that is a mass market kind of sport with everybody walking around in the shirts with 3 on. I think one should play tribute to 3 and their chief executive Robert Finnegan because they did enhance the tournament in their two years.
“They put a lot of money into promotion and substantial money towards the prize fund. They got behind the tournament very well and I think the Irish Open improved under their stewardship. Surprised is a funny word, disapppointed certainly.”