European Open to return to K Club

From Brian Keogh in Vilamoura

Less than a week after the Smurfit Kappa Group (SKG) pulled the plug on its sponsorship of the European Open, it has emerged that The K Club’s Palmer Course is the favourite to host the event for the 14th and final time next July.

The European Tour is obliged to host the event in the British Isles as part of its television agreement with broadcasters Sky Sports, which draws the vast majority of its audience from the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Given the difficulty of finding a replacement sponsor within the next nine months, the fact the European Tour has the funds to underwrite the event after receiving a compensation package from SKG believed to be just over €7 million; and the apparent willingness of joint proprietor Dr Michael Smurfit to showcase The K Club’s Palmer Course to the world again, the ingredients are in place for one last hurrah for the European Open in Ireland.

Keith Waters, the European Tour’s director of international policy and George O’Grady, the tour’s CEO, have confirmed that Dr Smurfit is keen to see the event played on his Ryder Cup course, where Europe romped to a nine-point victory over the United States last year.

“I think Dr Smurfit would like to have the event at The K Club for one more year,” O’Grady said in Portugal this week. “It would be nice to have a proper farewell or send off, if you like, after 13 years of the European Open and also the Ryder Cup rather than leaving this way."

Waters added: “There are a lot of people who think we should have one more event at The K Club and have a proper send off and goodbye instead of leaving this way. And there is some rationale to that.”

The rationale revolves around the TV deal with Sky Sports and the difficulty of finding a suitable replacement sponsor for an event which has been pencilled into the 2008 European Tour International schedule for July 3-6.

Waters said: “There are conditions whereby we do have an agreement with Sky that it’s a British Isles-based event because the Sky footprint includes Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“So we try to honour our agreements with everybody, whether it’s Sky or anybody else. We are motivated to keep it in the British Isles. Sky are fantastic partners and we don’t want to lose any event in the British Isles anyway and Sky certainly don’t.”