Irish Open faces fan challenge

By Brian Keogh

The Llanelli Scarlets can give the Irish Open a massive boost - by beating Munster in the Heineken Cup.

Rugby-mad Limerick could exit en masse if the Munstermen make it to the Twickenham decider on May 20.

If that happens, Adare Manor boss and Irish Open 'saviour' Tom Kane could see the gate severely reduced.

Around 50,000 Munster fans travelled to Cardiff last May to watch their heroes beat Biarritz in the final.

But with crowds at the Irish Open dropping by more than 25,000 between 2001 and last year, things can only get better.

The biggest crowds in recent years have been in Munster with 88,000 flocking to Fota Island in 2001 to watch Colin Montgomerie win his third Irish Open.

Around 81,600 turned up the following year but attendances dropped to 76,000 in 2003 and 72,000 in 2004 to just 63,000 at Carton House in 2005.

Figures were not released last year as horrendous weather took its toll.

Those who believe that the Irish Open can return to the glory days of the 1970s and early 80s should remember that the world of golf has changed radically in the last decade.

When Carroll’s rescued the Irish Open in 1975, it was one of just 20 tournaments on the European Tour schedule compared to 50 counting events this year.

Even then it was nowhere near the biggest in terms of prize money, with six tournaments offering more cash.

That scenario changed in 1983 when only three tournaments offered more prize money than the Carroll’s at Royal Dublin.

By 1995, when Murphy’s sponsored the event at Mount Juliet, it was the third biggest tournament in Europe after the Open.

Live TV exposure was in its infancy compared to today, when SkySports and Setanta offer extensive coverage of the European and US PGA tours.

But even if Adare Manor top gun Kane succeeds in getting the prize fund up to €3 million from the €2.5 million announced earlier this week, it will still remain in mid-table as far as money is concerned.

After the four majors and three World Golf Championship events, at least 10 other European Tour events will offer the players more prize money.

People power is the key to making the Irish Open one of the standout events in Europe.

The atmosphere at the Ryder Cup last year proved that Irish golf fans are prepared to get out and tramp the fairways.

A Munster loss in the Heineken Cup could prove to be the boost the Irish Open needs to kick on to a new level.