World No 7 Rory McIlroy has hailed the decision to take the 2014 Irish Open to Fota Island in Cork from June 19-22.
Now all the European Tour needs is a title sponsor to take the pressure off Failte Ireland so that the Irish Open can become a force in European Tour golf again.
“I think it is great news that the Irish Open will be played at Fota Island,” said McIlroy who ended his 2013 season with victory in December's Emirates Australian Open.
“The country’s National Open should be moved around to give everyone an opportunity to see the event, and it also gives us the chance to show the world just how many amazing courses there are in Ireland.
“Fota Island will be an exciting venue for the Irish Open, and exactly the kind of place to showcase what Ireland has to offer as a golf destination.”
Fota Island Resort, which was recently purchased by Chinese investors The Kang Group Worldwide, will become an Official Sponsor along with civil engineer company BAM Contractors in conjunction with Cork City and County councils.
European Tour CEO George O’Grady said: “It has been a busy few days in Ireland and we are delighted to make this announcement regarding the support of Fota Island, Cork’s City and County Councils as well as BAM Contractors.
“Having hosted two Irish Opens at the Fota Island Resort, we know the Irish Open will have a fitting home at this superb venue.
“The new owners of the Fota Island Resort – The Kang Family - have impressive ambitions. By securing the 2014 Irish Open they will now be able to showcase their resort and the beautiful surroundings of County Cork to the world via The European Tour’s global television network.”
While the prize fund, which was €2m in 2012 and 2013, will be announced in the coming weeks, it remains to be seen how long the event remains in Cork.
A move back to Northern Ireland has been mooted but with Royal Portrush happy to build on the success of 2012 for the next few years at least, it would appear logical that Fota Island will play host for at least another year, providing the Chinese investors are happy with 2014.
With Failte Ireland keen to reduce its financial contribution to the event, the next step is to find a title sponsor to work with a strong sponsorship portfolio that now comprises Fota Island Resort/The Kang Group Worldwide, Emirates, BMW, Rolex, Heineken, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bam Contractors as well as Cork City and County Councils.
The Irish Open was last played in Cork in 2002 when Denmark’s Søren Hansen took the title at Fota Island following a four-way playoff involving Richard Bland, Niclas Fasth and Darren Fichardt.
The resort also hosted the Championship in 2001, when Colin Montgomerie won the last of his three Irish Opens and given the success of those tournaments as well as the unprecedented crowds of 15,000 that turned up to see Sam Torrance capture the 2006 Irish Seniors Open, there is no reason to believe it won't be a great success.
Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, who was 48th at Fota in 2001 but pulled out of the 2002 edition complaining of exhaustion and loss of form, said: “I’m delighted that Fota Island is going to host the 2014 Irish Open.
"The players will love the golf course and everyone involved with the tournament will also enjoy the craic on offer in nearby Cork, Ireland’s second largest city.”
Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke, who tied for second behind Montgomerie at Fota Island in 2001, have also welcomed the news while Graeme McDowell, who was 27th on his Irish Open debut at Fota Island in 2002 will have fond memories of the venue.
Jonathan Woods, Chief Executive Officer at Fota Island Resort, said: “Since the last two occasions Fota Island Resort hosted the Irish Open, back to back in 2001 and 2002, so many significant investments and developments have taken place at the Resort itself and with our golf courses and facilities.
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to reintroduce the players, the public and the world’s media to Fota Island Resort, and to what is now a world-class, international golf venue. The Irish Open will be an enormously important event for tourism in Cork and the surrounding area, which is not just an added bonus for Fota Island Resort but for the whole region too.”
Ireland’s Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar described the Irish Open as ‘a pivotal event for sport and tourism in Ireland’.
“Golf is one of Ireland’s most important tourist activities," he said. "Around 160,000 overseas visitors take part in golf during their visit to Ireland every year, contributing €202 million to the economy.
"The Irish Open is a great advertisement for Irish golf, showcasing our beautiful scenery, world class courses and facilities and warm and friendly people. And this year we can look forward to watching the event at one of Ireland’s most beautiful golf courses in Fota,” Minister Varadkar said.
Minister of State for Tourism & Sport Michael Ring said: “Failte Ireland remains committed to the Irish Open and fully appreciates its value in terms of global advertising and exposure.
"Both Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland are working together to promote the island of Ireland overseas as a golf destination, and as the home of golfing champions.
"With the renaissance in Irish Golf over the last decade, the Irish Open is a superb opportunity to show just what Ireland can offer to golfers.”
The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Catherine Clancy, commented: “Cork City Council is delighted to be associated with the securing of this event for Cork through the provision of financial support from the Council’s Economic Development fund.
“The staging of the 2014 Irish Open in Fota Island will see significant short term and longer term tangible benefits to the city from the event itself and the strategic marketing messaging that will present Cork throughout the world as a place to visit through our association with the event."
Cllr. Noel O’Connor, Mayor of County Cork, expressed his delight at the announcement that Fota Island Golf Resort had secured the contract to host the Irish Open golf tournament next June.
“The 2012 event at Royal Portrush smashed European Tour attendance figures attracting 131,000 visitors and if the event in Fota can attract close to those figures, it will mean a massive spin off for the Cork region,” he said.
Cllr O’Connor said he was proud of the fact Cork County Council was in a position to support the staging of the event through its Economic Development Fund and added: “The Irish Open in Cork will provide a massive opportunity to showcase Cork as a place to visit to a global audience through worldwide television coverage over the four days of the tournament.”
As well as the support of Cork’s City and County Councils, there has been further investment in the tournament from the private sector through BAM Contractors.
Advance tickets for the 2014 Irish Open are on sale now at a special promotional price of €25 for Adult Day Tickets and €50 for Adult Season Tickets (concessions €15 and €30).
A limited number of tickets at those promotional prices – saving up to €10 for a day pass and €20 for a season – on the gate prices are currently available on a first come first served basis. Golf fans are encouraged to apply now for tickets on www.europeantour.com/tickets or www.irishopen.ie
About Fota Island Resort
Set in the heart of a peaceful island, surrounded by gorgeous scenery just eight miles from Cork City, Fota Island Resort, under new ownership since September 2013, is a unique combination of championship golf courses, a luxurious 5-star hotel with a stunning 1600 square metre destination spa, residential lodges, and a world class golf academy.
Catering equally superbly to business, leisure and corporate guests, Fota Island Resort is also the regular choice of national and international sportspeople and teams as a training venue before significant sporting events and a recuperation and relaxation centre afterwards, due to its excellent training and recovery facilities.
Fota Island Resort, twice previously host to the Irish Open, has 3 championship golf courses set in beautiful parkland scenery, supported by one of Ireland’s most sophisticated golf academies, using the latest high-tech video systems and computerised analysis and regular classes with PGA professionals to attract golfers of all ages and abilities.
For more information please visit www.fotaisland.ie