The 3 Irish Open is a crown jewel again after a get tough policy yielded a prime date for next year’s golfing showpiece.
Killarney Golf and Fishing club was confirmed as the venue for the €3m mega tournament, which has moved from mid May to a dream July 29 to August 1 slot next season.
The mobile phone giants refused to accept an initial new date offered by the tour and forced them to re-schedule no fewer than four other tournaments to secure a juicy slot on the congested summer calendar.
Robert Finnegan, Chief Executive of 3, explained: “The conversations were robust. I think the initial offer of a change of date didn’t meet our requirements and we engaged with the tour. There were strong discussions and we have to justify the 3 Irish Open having that date, which is a superb date, and I think it will lead to a superb event.
“We wouldn’t swap what happened with Shane Lowry last year for anything but the key part for us was a change of date that was better suited to the Irish weather.
“You can never guarantee you won’t have rain in Ireland but at least it will be warmer rain and we won’t be wearing two or three fleeces and overcoats.
“It puts the Irish Open right back on the list of great events on the European Tour. We are looking forward to building the Irish Open back up to where it used to be 10 or 15 years ago.”
After years of soggy Irish Opens, the new August bank holiday date should guarantee a party atmosphere in the Kerry kingdom with the cream of European golf battling for their places in Colin Montgomerie’s Ryder Cup side.
Padraig Harrington said: “The 3 Irish Open going to Killarney on this new date will make it a tremendous event.
“I believe the golf course is superb but I am 100 percent sure that the venue would be very popular on the tour with the players.
“The guys will have a great time and I will be telling all the players to bring their families that week to have a great time regardless of how the golf goes. We have to deliver a little bit more than all the events on tour.”
The prize fund is unchanged but the €500,000 winner’s cheque will be a massive carrot to European players as it comes just four weeks before the Ryder Cup side for Celtic Manor is finalised at Gleneagles on August 28.
And that’s thanks to tough talk from event saviors 3, who want to rekindle the Irish Open’s glory days.
The sponsors are contracted for three years with the current deal set to run out in 2011.
But Finnegan promised that 3 are in this for the long haul and unlikely to walk away in two years’ times after rescuing the event from oblivion at the 11th hour earlier this year.
He said: “We are part of a major organisation worldwide. Anyway, the 3 Irish Open is working for us and we are working for the 3 Irish Open. I don’t see why that would change.”
Failte Ireland is investing €1m again this year and European Tour boss George O’Grady reckons all parties are on to a winner.
Hopeful that a stellar field will turn up, O’Grady said: “The last two Irish Opens held at Killarney in 1991 and 1991 were won by Nick Faldo at the height of his powers so it is a real shotmakers golf course. All the players are looking forward to this enormously.
“The field last year was nothing to apologise for in my opinion, when you start with two of the biggest drawing cards in the world in Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy.
“We had very complicated negotiations to persuade other tournaments that it was in their interest to go to another date. We have belief in this championship and the two partners we have in Failte Ireland and 3.”
The 7,222 yard Killeen course was renovated in 2006 and the entire town of Killarney is determined to make it a weekend to remember.
Ruling out a rip off weekend for visitors during Irish Open week, Killarney general manager Maurice O’Meara said: “The town has rowed in behind the tournament and the hotels have made commitments to sensible pricing throughout that week.
“There will be a music festival and live entertainment. It will put Kerry and Killarney back on the map.”