Irish Open sponsors “3” have been playing hardball with the European Tour to secure a plum date ahead of the 2010 British Open.

“3” are not pulling out of their Irish Open deal.It was feared that the telecoms giant was set to pull the plug on its €3m-a-year sponsorship deal unless the tour guaranteed them a priceless July slot on the schedule.

But the company confirmed yesterday that they will sign a megabucks contract with the tour within the next two weeks after some hard-nosed negotiations with Wentworth chiefs.

Rachel Channing, head of PR and Communications at “3” insisted: “We are definitely sponsoring the Irish Open and we are in this for the three-year deal.

“We made it very clear to the PGA European Tour that we want them to deliver on their promise to try and improve the Irish Open. Part of that was the discussion around dates.”

This year’s Irish Open will be played at Baltray from May 14-17 after “3” insisted that the event moved to one of Ireland’s top links courses.

But the company is also demanding that the tour pulls out all the stops to secure a date closer to the Open Championship for Ireland’s blue riband sporting event.

The Open de France ALSTOM and the Barclays Scottish Open will be played in the two weeks immediately before Padraig Harrington seeks a hat-trick of Open wins at Turnberry from July 16-19 this year.

But with the world economic crisis forcing companies to cut back on sports sponsorship, “3” reckon they have a great chance of moving up the pecking order and putting the Irish Open back on the global golfing map.

In a statement, European Tour boss George O’Grady said: “All details of the final contract are being progressed and we are heartened by the support of so many people, led by Minister Cullen, Fáilte Ireland, Robert Finnegan, the CEO of 3, and the officials at County Louth in our joint efforts to make the first 3 Irish Open a spectacular occasion on our schedule.”

“3” boss Finnegan hails from Dunmore East, which is also part of Minister Cullen’s Waterford constituency.

And the two men are determined to see the Irish Open return to the glory days of the 1970s and 80s, when sponsors Carroll’s made it the second biggest event in Europe after the Open.

Channing said: “It is in everyone’s best interest that we return to the glory days when the Carroll’s had huge attendances and the tournament was the jewel in the crown of Ireland’s sporting calendar.

“We pushed for a links course and chose Baltray because that is Ireland’s strength in terms of attracting international players. We just want this to be as successful as it could possibly be.

“We want people to get behind it, come along to Baltray and enjoy the tournament. It is going to be different. 3 is a fun brand and we are very excited about it.”

According to sources close to “3”, the company will get first choice on a July date next year.

The deal is a triumph for Sports Minister, who Cullen revealed on December 8 last year that “3” would come to the rescue after Adare Manor boss Tom Kane lost millions in brave bid to host the Irish Open without a major backer.

The Minster said: “We will have a big input in this. I felt golf was one of our big products but we all kind of stood back and let the air out of the tyre after the Ryder Cup and then we lost the European Open.

“I felt we badly need to have the Irish Open back up as a really big tournament. We have gone to a certain prize fund level next year and we will lift it then over the coming years as well.”

Getting the Irish Open back on a links course was a major objective for Failte Ireland, which is expected to pump an estimated €1m into the prize fund.