Smurfit pull plug on European Open

By Brian Keogh

Smurfit Kappa has pulled the plug on the European Open at The K Club - costing the company an estimated €25 million.

The packaging giant yesterday announced that it was concluding its agreement with the European Tour "with immediate effect."

But Smurfit Kappa's escape from golf sponsorship has come at a serious price.

Former K Club and Smurfit boss, Dr Michael Smurfit clinched the Ryder Cup when he agreed to sponsor the European Open for a decade after matches.

That deal was struck in 1994 and set to run out in 2015 - ten years after the original 2005 Ryder Cup date.

Now Smurfit Kappa will have had to compensate the tour for pulling out of the deal early - paying the estimated €3 million a year costs of running the event for the next eight years.

Smurfit Kappa boss, Garry McGann said: "We have had a very successful relationship with The European Tour over the last 13 years, during which time the European Open became one of the leading events on the Tour’s circuit.

"Our decision is based on the increasingly international scale of our business and the inability of a brand such as ours to obtain full value from the sponsorship."

The event looks unlikely to continue at the K Club and The European Tour has yet to announce a replacement sponsor.

European Tour boss, George O’Grady said: "The success of the Championship is a tribute to the vision of the Dr Michael Smurfit who has done so much for the European Open Golf Championship, for golf in Ireland, and for The Ryder Cup. The European Open is a key fixture on the European Tour, offering a much coveted opportunity for business, and negotiations are already advanced re its future."

Failte Ireland issued a statement shortly after the announcement that confirmed the Irish Open as the centre piece of its golf sponsorship programme over the next few years.

Gillian Bowler, Chairman of Fáilte Ireland, said: "It is our ambition to return the Irish Open to its position as one of the top golf events in Europe with the level of funding that will secure a better date in the schedule and attract a strong field of star players playing at the best venues in Ireland."

But hopes of a better date will have to wait until 2009 as the 2008 Irish Open will be played at Adare Manor from May 15-18 - the week before the flagship BMW PGA Championship.

The European Open has kept its traditional date from July 3-6 but no new venue has been announced.