European skipper Alison Nicholas has refused to rule out handing an Irish player one of her four wildcards for the Solheim Cup clash with the United States at Killeen Castle in 150 days’ time.
But whatever about a visible Irish presence inside the ropes for the biggest event in women’s professional golf, global partners AIB - the others are Ping, Rolex and Golf Ireland - will be have no corporate branding in place at the County Meath venue from 23-25 September.
In 2007, the now beleaguered banking group was locked into an estimated €2.5m, five-year deal to sponsor the Solheim Cup as well as five editions of the Ladies Irish Open until 2012
But not only was there no representative of the bank at yesterday’s official Solheim Cup launch at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, AIB’s corporate logo was conspicuous by its absence and will not be present at Killeen Castle in September.
The cash will remain in place but the removal of the bank’s branding is a sensitivity issue - a strategic move designed to avoid a public backlash following the €13.3 billion taxpayer bailout.
In a statement, the bank said: “AIB entered a five year contract in 2007 which saw it sponsor the Solheim Cup until 2011. The change in AIB’s structure and business focus now means that international benefits of the AIB brand association of this sponsorship are no longer as relevant.
“Therefore, while AIB will see out its contractual obligations as sponsor of the 2011 Solheim Cup, it is our intention to work with the partnerships to transfer the branding rights and associated benefits for the event.”
It seems likely that a similar decision will be taken regarding AIB’s branding rights as title sponsors of this year’s €400,000 Ladies Irish Open, set for Killeen Castle from August 5-7.
It also appears likely that their will be no home player in the host side for the first time in the history of the Solheim Cup, despite the captain’s reluctance to rule out the presence of leading Irish tour players Rebecca Codd (nee Coakley) or Martina Gillen.
But Nicholas doesn’t fear a repeat of the 2007 Seve Trophy debacle at the Heritage where the absence of an Irish player and a clash with the National Ploughing Championships in Tullamore led to poor attendances.
“Not from the reception I have had from the clubs so far,” said Nicholas, who is touring the country giving clinics for the 155 Solheim Cup ambassadors who have volunteered to push ticket sales at their clubs. “The response I’ve had has been fantastic.”
While she refused to rule out handing of her four wildcards for an Irish player in top form, Nicholas said: “I know that there might not be an Irish player there but you never know, things can change in a flash if someone wins an event.
“I don’t see that as a problem anyway because it is a world class event and there are lots of players that people want to watch and the ladies at the clubs are really looking forward to it.”
Nicholas will have visited 30 clubs when she concludes her tour and she believes she has bonded with Irish fans.
“They want to support the event in Ireland and they want to support me as well because I have been able to connect with them,” the Yorkshire woman said. “As a country you are very proud and want to put on a good event and good home support is important for its overall success.
“It’s been brilliant and I have really enjoyed it. They are lovely people and we have had a lots of laughs. They will bring lots and lots of people to the event and hopefully we can respond to that and lift that trophy.”
More than 14,000 season tickets have already been sold and organisers are expecting more than 100,000 fans to turn up over the five days, the majority of them during the competition days from Friday to Sunday.
According to the organisers, the event is worth just under €35 million to the Irish economy.