Ryder Cup stars snub Irish Open

Half of Europe's Ryder Cup winning team are set to turn their backs on the Irish Open at Adare Manor in May.

Despite what many described as the greatest golfing experience of their lives at the K Club just six months ago, the event is simply nowhere near the top of their agendas.

Swedes Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson, English pair Luke Donald and David Howell and Spanish maestros Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal all confirmed in Miami this week that they will be elsewhere from 17-20 May.

European Tour stars such as Ian Poulter and Angel Cabrera will also be busy or resting that week

And while Dubliners Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington will definitely be there, as will Darren Clarke and his Ryder Cup buddy Lee Westwood, the men who were lifted to Ryder Cup glory by thousands of Irish fans last September have other priorities.

Thankfully for Adare Manor owner Tom Kane - the man determined to return the event to its once glorious status - three-time champion Colin Montgomerie has confirmed his participation at the spectacular Trent Jones track.

But a question mark remains over big hitting superstar Paul Casey and some of the leading lights of the European Tour.

Painful though it might be, the Irish Open is now a backwater event in need of new life to avoid sliding into oblivion.

And while Harrington believes that 2007 could signal the start of a revival for a tournament that was once one of the highlights of the European Tour schedule, he recognises that there are major problems to be overcome.

Harrington said: "It's one of those things. It is just not seen by many players as a premier event on the tour.

"Every event is competing with every other event and you have to have a prime slot on the calendar and May is not an ideal date with the tournament falling between the Players Championship and the BMW PGA at Wentworth.

"The fact the the prize fund is up to €2.5 million is a very positive thing because money is used as a yardstick to judge the size of an event.

"For example, there is a new event coming in to Portugal later in the year that's worth around €3 million and that will get everyone from the middle order of the tour right to the very top, making a decision to play in it for different reasons.

"The prize money does have an effect and if the prize fund was €5 million I am sure that players would be thinking, 'Well, I'll play in Ireland that week.'

"If it was a big week, a lot of people who are coming to play at Wentworth would come and play in Adare the week before. "

You have to start somewhere and Harrington regards the move to Adare Manor as a positive step towards restoring the Irish Open's tattered reputation.

He added: "Being hit by weather over the last few years has caused an adverse reaction and you just have to ask a guy like Jarrod Lyle, who didn't have a great experience last year.

"But I think the golf course and the venue will start attracting more players. I think that will help because they will enjoy it and come back again. A better date would help as well but it is hard to find any date nowadays."

Despite the obvious negatives, Harrington reckons there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about a new era for the Irish Open with Adare set to host the event for the next three years.

He said: "Any time the tournament goes to a place like Adare Manor, people will enjoy the tournament, no matter what the weather.

"As a venue it is well capable of handling anything the Irish climate can throw at it and I am looking forward to that venue.

"Having played well on the course before and winng JP McManus's Pro-Am, I am keen to play there and the fact that they have added a bit of length to it won't do me any harm either.

"I liked it a lot and made a lot of birdies even though it was windy. It was an easy old game for two days."

If Kane and his posse of sponsors can up the ante with regard to prize money, Harrington believes that it may still be possible to secure a prime date on the congested European Tour International Schedule.

He said: "Well, certainly the European Open worked like that. It was first held in October, which isn't a good date in Ireland. But because they put the money behind it and ran a good event, they got a prime date.

"That is a good example. Anybody who is prepared to support the tour will eventually get rewarded.

"When you are a premier event, like the Irish Open used to be, it is like a lot of things in business. A smaller business comes along with more motivation to move themselves up and they pass you by. A bit of complacency and all of a sudden, things move on without you."

The fact that events such as the The Celtic Manor Wales Open and Barclays Scottish Open pay hefty appearance fees makes it possible for them to attract the bigger names.

But Adare's reputation should make the Irish Open a bigger and better event.

What happens when the current deal between Adare and the tour ends in 2009 is anyone's guess.