Smurfit blow a boost for Adare

From Brian Keogh in Vilamoura

Straight-talking Thomas Bjorn believes the loss of the Smurfit European Open is a massive opportunity for the Irish Open at Adare.

Chairman of the Tournament Players Committee, the Dane believes that concentrating sponsorship resources will help Ireland's national championship regain its place as one of the tour's biggest events.

Winner of the Irish Open at Carton House last year, Bjorn believes that bigger investment by sponsors such as Failte Ireland will boost the field and bring the crowds flocking back to one of the tour's best events.

Bjorn said: "It is a pity to lose a great sponsor like Smurfit, who have been huge for the European Open. But looking at the other side of the story, it is a also a huge opportunity for the Irish Open now.

"Irish golf fans have always come out and given events great support and hopefully the Irish Open will get back to being the crowd-puller that is always was. It is a big positive as far as I can see."

Failte Ireland announced on Monday that he is preparing a new strategy for promoting Ireland’s golf tourism product in the international market place.

And with the European Open leaving these shores, it could mean more public money for the Irish Open and Adare Manor boss Tom Kane.

The European Open's July date is also free right now, giving Kane his legion of Proud Partners a chance to move the event to a more favourable summer date.

Currently sandwiched between the PGA Tour's Players Championship at Sawgrass and the BMW PGA at Wentworth, the only top 50 players in action last year were Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood.

The fact that leading player Padraig Harrington became the first home winner for 25 years, boosted the attendance through the 50,000 barrier for the first time in years.

And Bjorn hopes to see those crowds return to an even bigger Irish Open over the next few seasons as the tour tries to build the strength of its European leg.

Bjorn said: "I think George O'Grady and Keith Waters are still very well aware that we have to focus very hard on our European summer and make those events very strong and very good.

"They are still the core of our tour and they need to be strong. Even though we go outside our own continent in the winter, we still have to maintain a big focus on our European season."