Rory McIlroy might be box office but the Irish Open still needs a commitment from the Irish Government to ensure that event builds on the momentum of what promises to be an 80,000 sell out at Royal County Down next May.
That was the stark message from the Tour’s Commercial Director James Finnigan, who fears that Failte Ireland are set to pull away from the event in the future despite having done “the hard yards” by sticking with it through the recent dark years.
With the attendance at Royal County Down from May 28-31 limited to 20,000 a day due to the confided spaces at the famed Newcastle links, fans are being urged to book their tickets before December 31 to avoid missing out on what promises to be the best Irish Open field ever assembled.
And with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board keen to make hay out of north of the borders stagings at Royal County Down in 2015 and Lough Erne in 2017, the European Tour cannot understand why there appears too be no golf tourism policy in place, not just for the Irish Open’s return in 2016, but even next year.
Failte Ireland reduced its Irish Open investment to just €1m at Fota Island this year and even though world No 1 McIlroy has given the event a huge lift by deciding to host the it through his Rory Foundation, the lack of initiative from the Irish tourism body has set alarm bells ringing at Wentworth.
Even with Rickie Fowler likely to be joined by several US Walker Cup stars from that 2007 winning team from Royal County Down in FedEx Cup 1-2 Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk, not to mention 2012 US Open champion Webb Simpson (Dustin Johnson is another potential starter despite his current leave of absence from the PGA Tour) the European Tour fears a total pull-out by Failte Ireland in the future.
“There’s uncertainty going forward,” Finnigan said of the level of investment in 2016, which is earmarked for south of the border. “The Irish government’s strategy on golf tourism for the next two years has yet to be determined and we hope they stay with us.
“I can confidently say that a golf tourist will come and spend two and a half to three times as much as a normal tourist and that’s the reason why the Northern Ireland government is so keen to invest in the European Tour.
“They see the benefits than can be gained from golf and we need to get that level of commitment from the government in Ireland and Failte Ireland.
“We need them to maintain their interest in the Irish Open not just for 2016, which has yet to be determined, but for 2015.”
Next year’s Irish Open attendance at Royal Country Down will be limited to 20,000 a day with a record 5,000 grandstand seats set to be built.
Fans are urged to book early through the European Tour website to avoid missing out on seeing the best Irish Open field ever assembled.
With no venue confirmed for a 2016 staging in the Republic and little interest from the commercial sector so far, Finnigan said: “The field for the 2015 Irish Open is going to be unprecedented. So it’s hard to understand why any investor would be thinking of walking away, having done the hard yards and come through the worst economic crisis since the formation of the State.
“Why do that when you have weathered the storm and the economy is picking up?”
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) has invested heavily in big events in recent years — the G8 summit and the Giro d’Italia are two of the more recent ones — and the Irish Open is a continuation of that policy, more so than ever with the R&A committed to bringing The Open back to Royal Portrush as early as 2019.
Kathryn Thomson, Chief Operating Officer for the NITB said: “The return of the Irish Open is a major coup for County Down and the whole of Northern Ireland.
“Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke are wonderful ambassadors for Northern Ireland on a global stage and their magnificent achievements have certainly raised the profile of Northern Ireland on the global golf circuit.
“At NITB, we are determined to make the most of their success for the benefit of golf tourism in Northern Ireland which currently generates upwards of £27 million each year for the local economy.”
The European Tour’s Antonia Beggs, Championship Director for the Irish Open, claims that the Irish Open in Northern Ireland is the next best thing to a major championship for players and fans alike.
“I cannot tell you how excited we are to be returning in 2015 to one of the best courses on the planet and with the likes of Rory and Rickie Fowler already confirmed, we are confident that next year’s line-up will be one to remember,” she said
Tickets are already on sale and early birds can save £10 if they book by December 31 before prices rise from £25 to the normal gate price of £35 from January 1, 2015.
Ticket holders will be able to leave and re-enter the venue at their leisure and kids under the age of 16 will go free as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
For more information on the Irish Open 2015 including accommodation offers, golf in Northern Ireland and ticket information, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com/irish-open-2015 / www.irishopen.ie or #2015irishopen