Fota Island from the air. Picture courtesy www.fotaisland.ieFota Island would love to see the Irish Open return to the spectacular Cork venue for the first time since 2002 - but not at any price.
“It’s very simple,” said the resort’s Marketing Director, Seamus Leahy. “We have always been keen to have it back. That hasn’t changed. We speak to the European Tour every year about the possibility and it nearly came to pass in 2010 but went to Killarney.
“Our new [Chinese] owners are keen to bring a large tournament to Fota - in the near future. Whether that is 2014, 2015, ‘16 or ‘17, that hasn’t been agreed upon in any way, shape or form. All that we are saying right now is that we are chatting with the European Tour to look at a possibility in the future.”
Despite talk of Fota Island and Druids Glen, Carton House hosted the Irish Open on the Montgomerie Course this year and was generally considered the favourite to do so again in 2014 with the O’Meara Course tipped as the venue.
But a sizeable financial contribution from a rival venue could clearly turn the heads of the European Tour, who did not expect to do much more than break even this year.
What’s clear is that the days of seven figure staging fees are gone and it remains to be seen what the European Tour wants and what Fota Island can bring to the table in terms of cash, sponsors or other inducements for an event which is scheduled for June 19-22 - the week after the US Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina.
“We had talks with the Tour in 2010 when Killarney got it but we aren’t in any heavy talks with them at the moment,” Leahy said. “We are looking at the future to see if it is a viable option.
“[The European Tour’s Commercial Director], James Finnegan went to the IGTOA event in Killarney a few weeks ago and it was reported that we met him. But the Tour hasn’t come down and inspected the course or anything like that.
“We did have a cup of coffee and we do that on a regular basis to talk about Senior events and all other types of events that might come to the resort.
“It’s very exciting. It’s great for Fota and for Cork that an Irish Open may return here at some stage in the future. But for that to happen depends on several things.
“To put a date of 2014, or ‘16 or ‘17 on it would be inaccurate. We are chatting about it. Seeing what they want from us and seeing what we can give then. Whether that is us putting cash in or helping find sponsor - there is good corporate interest down here - or whether various players’ needs would be served, all those things would be discussed.”
A 500-acre golf resort with a luxury hotel on site, Fota Island was in NAMA for several years until it was snapped up by the Kang family in June for a reported €20m. They also splashed out €6m on Kingsley Hotel in Cork City.
However, talk of Chinese owners with deep pockets willing to invest heavily in the Irish Open are off the mark, according to Fota Island.
Leahy said: “I have heard everything - this amount of money has been offered, that amount of money has been offered, it’s all pie in the sky. It’s people guessing. How much did Carton House pay last year? How much are Carton House going to pay this year?
“If we can come up with an agreement as what are the elements required for both parties, we will be the first to tell the world it is happening. But that is a big if.
“Why didn’t it happen in the past? Maybe somebody outbid us in the past, maybe a sponsor thought another venue was more suitable.
“We were very actively looking at 2010 and have chatted with the European Tour every year for the past five years, whether realistically or otherwise. We continue to do that.”
Carton House has made no comment on the fact that the European Tour left the 2014 venue as To Be Confirmed (TBC) when it released its schedule last Sunday. But it’s clear that a bidding war with Fota Island would only benefit the European Tour.
“Nobody wants that,” Leahy said. “I suspect that the money involved would be a lot less than 10 years ago. I’ve heard numbers that no Irish venue would be willing to spend now.
“Yes, the new owners do have cash but they are not silly. You pay the going rate, not former rates.”
Rather than a venue, the European Tour needs to find a major commercial backer for an event that has been without a title sponsor since mobile phone operator “3” pulled the plug after just two years following the 2010 Killarney staging.