There will be no worries about Rory McIlroy skipping the Irish Open for a trip to Congressional Country Club next year.
According to sources close to the European Tour, the world No 1 is 100 percent committed to being at Carton House from June 27-30 rather than in Bethesda for the clashing AT&T National on the US circuit
And if everything goes to plan, he could be making his return to a redesigned O’Meara Course, where as a 16-year old he finished fifth behind Scotland’s Richie Ramsay in the 2005 Irish Amateur Open.
The two-time major winner was back at the Maynooth resort two weeks after than Irish Amateur appearance to make his Irish Open debut on the European Tour on Carton’s better-known track, the Montgomerie Course. But with his pal Harry Diamond on his bag, he followed an opening 71 on the bunker-strewn inland links with an 81 to miss the cut by four shots.
The Montgomerie was a brilliant venue for last August’s European Individual Amateur Championship, won by Welshman Rhys Pugh on 11 under par. Compared to the wind and rain-lashed Irish Opens won by Stephen Dodd and Thomas Bjorn in May 2005 and 2006, it was a festival of low scoring that included a 10 under 62 by Scot James Frazer.
The Irish golfing public has a long memory, however, and while the June date is a help, Carton House are keen to see the event move to the testing but more sheltered and picturesque O’Meara Course next year.
Marketing, no doubt, is a key concern but the course will be a more testing beast than the one Ramsay conquered in 2005.
Following a painstaking and ultimately successful planning process, European Golf Design and the designer Mark O’Meara have come up with a plan that better connects the O’Meara with the main house. Work has already begun on creating a new first and 18th, though the final decision on the venue for the 2013 Irish Open will be taken by the European Tour.
The old 18th and par-three fourth will be eliminated while the original first will become a testing par three with the new Championship tee situated around 200 yards from the original green.
Protecting the historic vista in front of Carton House was a must in the planning process and the new holes do not impinge on the views of Carton House in any way.
The new opening hole sweeps up a gentle hill, left of the road that leads from current O’Meara car park, while the new 18th starts near the current 17th green (naturally enough) but finishes close to the bank of the River Rye, almost directly opposite the 18th on the Montgomerie Course.
European Tour officials visited the course earlier this year and plan to return soon to see how the new holes are bedding in before making a decision on the 2013 Irish Open venue.
The new first and 18th greens will be grassed with sods from the old greens which means the biggest obstacle to the O’Meara hosting the Irish Open could be posed by the weather over the next few months.
“The weather hasn’t been kind to anyone working the ground,” said Conor Mallaghan, managing director and owner of Carton House. “We need the rub of the green at the minute but with some decent weather we should be okay.
“All the planning permissions came through and there were no appeals. We are always sensitive to planning issues so we are very pleased. We are committed to delivering a really big event next year and taking on the torch from Royal Portrush.
“We would love the Irish Open to be player on the O’Meara and we are working towards that. But we are very lucky that we have two golf courses that can host the Irish Open and ultimately that’s our fallback.”
While the search goes on for a title sponsor, the 2013 Irish Open prize fund will not dip below the €2 million that was on offer at Royal Portrush this summer.
The event will be marketed heavily to co-incide with The Gathering, a tourism initiative designed to encourage people of Irish heritage to retrace their roots.
They could well included two-time major winner O’Meara, who has not played in the Irish Open since he finished ninth behind runaway winner Bernhard Langer at Portmarnock in his lone appearance in the event in 1987. The Senior majors fall either side of the event.
With McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington set to take on Carton House resident Shane Lowry and a strong European field, it promises to be an attractive championship for potential sponsors in the Dublin area.
Of the 13 companies that backed this year’s hugely successful staging in Portrush, Heineken, Ballygowan, Moy Park and BMW are on board for another year at least.