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Irish PGA in holding pattern yet again

While the Irish PGA is again in the balance, the €25,000 Slieve Russell Pro-Am will go ahead from June 8-9 in its first weekend staging.The Irish Region is again searching for a date, a venue and a new sponsor for the 103rd PGA Irish Championship.

The event was staged at Mount Juliet last year when it was the season-ending event for the PING Race to Mount Juliet.

However, PING has decided not to continue with its sponsorship, which totalled over €55,000 last season, leaving the Irish Region back at square one with its flagship event in a tough economic climate.

The good news for Ireland’s club professionals is that the €25,000 Slieve Russell Pro-Am has been confirmed for June 8-9 - the first weekend staging in the history of one of the domestic circuit’s most prestigious events.

“As I speak, the Irish Championship will not be played at Mount Juliet this year,” said Michael McCumiskey, Secretary of the PGA’s Irish Region. “It’s not that we haven’t been talking to anyone about dates or sponsorship or venues. We continue to work on it daily but we have no sponsor and no date set.

“What we are trying to do is see if there is a date on the calendar that will attract some of the tour players, such as Damien McGrane or Shane Lowry. That’s our first objective, to see if there are dates we can identify and then share that information with the players.”

David Higgins captured the 2012 PGA Irish Championship and the Order of Merit at Mount JulietFinding a date that suits tour players is not easy. And finding a replacement for PING and Mount Juliet will be even tougher.

Last year’s Irish Championship had a prize fund of €30,000 with a Bonus Pool of €17,500. Add in the costs of the Pro-Am and the dinner and there was little change out of €55,000.

“It’s a challenge and it is an annual issue,” McCumiskey confessed. “Last year the PING Race to Mount Juliet was merged with the Irish Championship and we had a great event at Mount Juliet, which is a fantastic resort and a wonderful venue. That was after staging the Championship at Seapoint in 2010, when Damien McGrane played, and again at Seapoint in 2011.

“But sponsorship never comes easy. Mount Juliet supported the Order of Merit Race with the Championship being the final counting event on the basis that they might get sponsorship. We had the Lexus/Ping Race from 2010 to 2012 but things have changed in our business over the last five years.”

The bones of the 2013 schedule has already been published on the PGA website but the number of events is still well down on the 2012 campaign which finished with David Higgins topping the Order of Merit thanks to his victory in the PGA Championship at Mount Juliet.

The powers at the PGA HQ in Dundalk hope to flesh out that schedule over the coming weeks but it is now clear that only a handful of Irish professionals will break even if they commit to playing the pro-am circuit this season.

David Higgins cashed in last year by winning the Irish PGA and the PIng Race to Mount Juliet.“The events in Ballyliffin, Connemara, Carne and Cork were booked in for 2013 early on and we have other events in the pipeline and are speaking to other venues about doing an events,” McCumiskey said. “But things have changed. It was never easy but we are working harder than what is expected of us, I would say, and I believe we will have another sprinkling of pro-ams.

“There is still interest in golf and there is money for golf but it is not as significant as it was and that’s something we accepted a long time ago and we are just getting on with it.”

Higgins, who regained his European Tour card at the Qualifying School in November, is almost certain to be at the European Tour’s Lyoness Open rather than chasing his fourth victory when the Slieve Russell Pro-Am celebrates its 21st anniversary on Saturday and Sunday, June 8-9.

“We are very grateful to all the Irish PGA Professionals and amateur golfers who take time out of their busy schedules to support this event year after year. We look forward to another wonderful event this year which we are delighted to announce will be played over a weekend for the first time ever.” said Tony Walker, General Manager of the Slieve Russell Hotel, Golf & Country Club.