Dubai’s construction boom might be in reverse gear but efforts to build on the Irish Open foundations laid down by defunct sponsors 3 are moving ahead apace according to three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.
True to his word, the European Tour’s chief executive George O’Grady has been keeping the Irish players abreast of his efforts to find a new backer and make sure that two years spent rebuilding the event have not been for nothing.
Harrington was frustrated to “do the superfluous things very well and the important things very poorly” as he opened with a two-over 74 in the Dubai World Championship. But he is greatly encouraged that the tour is committed to making the Irish Open happen next July.
“I met with George and there is a plan in hand but the Tour badly needs to find a sponsor,” Harrington said. “It’s on the schedule and assuming that there is a sponsor, it’s going to go ahead.
“3 have done a good job in getting the Irish Open to a certain level and the Tour certainly want to make sure it’s there on the schedule. Everyone wants the Irish Open, and you have to thank ‘3’ for that.
“It was an exciting event last year at Killarney. The crowds were superb. It was a profitable gate and a good return for the tournament in that sense.
“So it’s not like they are trying to find a sponsor for a weak event on the Tour. They are trying to find a sponsor for one of the bigger events.”
With the help of his management company, IMG, Harrington is also working behind the scenes to bring a global sponsor to the table. If that happens the event would have “presented by Padraig Harrington” tagged into the title.
Maintaining the current €3m purse is going to be difficult task and seems impossible. But Harrington sees that as a key issue.
“What we don’t want to do is take a step backwards,” he said. “So if we could hold the ground for a few years, we would be okay. In a perfect world it would need to be a big international sponsor who is happy to maintain the sponsorship and drive the event forward.”
Harrington was keen to point out that if the pulling power of Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell or Rory McIlroy helped secure a new sponsor, a move north of the border would be welcomed with open arms.
“It was certainly talked about because if the Northern Ireland players do bring something to the table, then they would like to see it go to Northern Ireland,” Harrington said. “If so, then it would be a great event in Northern Ireland but then it was a fantastic event in Killarney, so if all things go to plan I would suggest they look to take it back to Killarney again and try and have another successful year there before they move it somewhere else.”
McIlroy ruled out getting personally involved in the search for a sponsor at this stage of his career, insisting: “That the tour’s job… Maybe in 20 years.”
But Darren Clarke was encouraged by his chat with O’Grady and the possibility of taking tour golf to Royal Portrush, where he believe “20-30,000” fans would turn up.
After carding a one-under 71, Clarke said. “I would do anything to get it to Portrush. There are new tees and the course is sensational. They haven’t had a big tournament up there of a long time and the crowds would be phenomenal. Everything would be great.”