Rory McIlroy is clearly the host with the most after his decision to support the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open for another three years helped boost the prize fund by 60 percent to €4 million — the biggest in the event’s history.
In what was the worst kept secret in Irish golf, the European Tour confirmed The K Club as the host venue from May 19-22 next year, sandwiching the tournament between The Players at TPC Sawgrass and its own flagship event, the BMW PGA at Wentworth.
McIlroy’s decision to host on behalf of his charitable foundation for another three years was enough to persuade Dubai Duty Free to also extended its deal until 2018 and also to increase its investment.
The choice of The K Club to stage the event for the first time makes sense as it’s an excellent venue for corporate business and 2016 coincides with owner, Dr Michael Smurfit’s 80th birthday as well as the 10th anniversary of the 2006 Ryder Cup and the 25th anniversary of the resort’s opening,
Officially, the 2017 Irish Open will still take place at the Lough Erne Resort in Co Fermanagh, though there is some uncertainty in industry circles that this will now go ahead following the sale of the resort to a US buyer since it was awarded the tournament last year.
With the Portstewart Golf Club confirming last week that they are keen to host the event on their famous Strand links, and with former Irish Open venues such as Adare Manor and Mount Juliet undergoing facelifts, a future strategy for the event appears to be taking shape.
Following this year’s 100,000 sell out at Royal County Down, the decision by Dubai Duty Free to remain in partnership with Mcilroy was a no-brainer, leading to an increase in the prize fund from €2.5m to €4m.
The previous biggest Irish Open prize fund was €3m at Killarney in 2010 but at €4m, it is now one of the biggest events on the schedule behind the majors, the World Golf Championships, the BMW PGA, the Scottish Open, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the four Final Series events.
In what could be a significant move when it comes to getting a better date in the schedule, the prize money increase means the Irish Open is now a bigger than the French Open, which occupies a prime date, two weeks before The Open Championship.
With the Ryder Cup set to be played in Paris in 2018, Ireland may be able to negotiate a better date with the tour in future years, especially if McIlroy — who visited the Irish rugby team on Monday to give them golf tips — remains heavily involved.
“The Irish Open has always meant so much to me, so I am really excited to announce my commitment to host the tournament, on behalf of the Rory Foundation, for the next three years,” Mcilroy said in a statement.
“I would like to thank Colm McLoughlin of Dubai Duty Free and Keith Pelley of The European Tour for supporting my vision to develop the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation into one of the leading events on The European Tour’s schedule over the next three years.
“I was delighted with the support I received, not only from the players who competed this year, but also from the fans who came along to the Irish Open at Royal County Down in May – they made it another sell-out tournament. I am sure The K Club – on the 10th anniversary as host of the 2006 Ryder Cup – will be an excellent venue for the 2016 Irish Open.”
Having attracted the likes of Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Ernie Els this year, the event will clearly be targeting more big names next year, such as Woods or Dustin Johnson.
While he didn’t mention Woods, Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Dubai Duty Free said: “The fact that the Rory Foundation will continue to host the event was central to our decision moving forward.
"We are also pleased that as a result of our sponsorship commitment, The European Tour has announced an increase in prize money to €4million making it very appealing for international players to participate.”
Sir Michael Smurfit, owner of The K Club, said: “I am delighted that in conjunction with The European Tour, the Rory Foundation and Dubai Duty Free have chosen The K Club as the venue and home for the 2016 Irish Open.
“We look forward to the year ahead greatly as along with celebrating the 25 year anniversary of The K Club and the ten year anniversary of the staging of The Ryder Cup, it will also be the year that I celebrate my 80th birthday.
“I am confident that the team at The K Club will extend their warmest hospitality to Rory and the players, his guests and the sponsors Dubai Duty Free and make all concerned proud as we showcase the best in golf, luxury, Irish warmth and hospitality. I am sure I am joined by all at The K Club and associated, including our members, in looking forward to what promises to be a momentous occasion.”
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive Officer of The European Tour, said: “The Irish Open is one of the most prestigious and most eagerly anticipated tournaments on The Race to Dubai, and having two powerful global brands in Dubai Duty Free and Rory McIlroy supporting the event as well as a record prize fund, will ensure that continues.
“We are delighted that Dubai Duty Free have pledged themselves to the tournament through until 2018 and we thank them for their continued commitment and vision, not just to the Irish Open but to The European Tour as a whole.
“Rory is a loyal supporter of The European Tour and the Irish Open, and he is one of the game’s most recognisable superstars who helped attract a world-class field to this year’s tournament. Naturally we are thrilled he will continue as host of the Irish Open for another three years.
“We are also very happy to be taking the tournament to The K Club. I vividly remember watching The 2006 Ryder Cup and thinking what a stunning venue it was and I know all our Members will look forward to testing their games against this world-class layout.”