The Irish Open could be heading to Portstewart after the European Tour today confirmed that “the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, Hosted by the Rory Foundation will not take place at the Lough Erne Resort.”
The European Tour statement went on:
European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley said: “During a recent visit to the Lough Erne Resort, I was delighted to meet with the owners and to learn more about their significant investment plans for the golf course and hotel. It is a beautiful facility with an outstanding championship golf course designed by Sir Nick Faldo.
“While the 2017 Irish Open will not be staged at Lough Erne, the European Tour looks forward to working with the new ownership consortium, and I am confident that the Lough Erne Resort will host an event with the European Tour in the future.
“Details of the 2017 venue will be announced in due course, but in the meantime we are solely focussed on ensuring that the 2016 tournament, which will be staged at The K Club in County Kildare in six weeks’ time, is a great success.”
It’s been an open secret for 18 months that the Fermanagh venue was not considered a viable option despite the fact that it was announced as the 2017 venue in a joint announcement with Royal County Down by now First Minister and local MP, Arlene Foster in April 2014.
Tournament host Rory McIlroy was once attached to the resort where he had a home as part of his deal with family friend Jim Treacy, a Fermanagh native
Treacy’s dream resort (and his supermarket chain) fell into financial difficulties following the global financial collapse of 2008 and the Bank of Scotland Ireland eventually pulled the plug in 2011, appointing administrators to Lough Erne.
It was sold to Illinois-headquartered Vine Avenue Advisors for a reported €10.5m in 2014 and with McIlroy keen to take the Irish Open to links courses and wth new owners in place, the Irish Open deal was doomed to failure despite the political will to go to Minister Foster’s constituency.
Portstewart's secretary manager confirmed to Irish Golf Desk last October that the club was interested.
"We’d like to do it. Royal Portrush hosted in 2012 — a links course. Royal County Down hosted in 2015 — another links course," Michael Moss said. "The European Tour likes the profile of the inks course for the Irish Open and getting it back to where it should be.
“So if the Irish Open going to be held on a links in Northern Ireland again, well, the obvious next choice is Portstewart. We could host the Irish Open tomorrow. The course is ready.”
With the 2016 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at The K Club just six weeks away, there were no reasons given for the decision not to go to Lough Erne or any official indication of where it is going instead.
First minister Foster was adamant late last year that the event was going ahead in her native Fermanagh, referring any doubts to the European Tour.
But when the European Tour’s Antonia Beggs admitted at The K Club in January that it could not confirm or deny Lough Erne for 2017, alarm bells began ringing.
The resort issued a statement the following day, insisting that the event was still a go.
“The owners and management of Lough Erne Resort have been in frequent contact with the European Tour regarding this event and have received no notification of another venue hosting the 2017 Irish Open,” the statement read. “Our team is very much looking forward to hosting the Irish Open at Lough Erne Resort.
“We are continually working in conjunction with the relevant agencies and with the full support of the First Minister in this regard and we have everything in place to deliver a world-class tournament for this part of Northern Ireland and the island as a whole.”
Tourism NI also reacted to the story on Friday revealing in a statement; “Tourism NI has been in contact with Lough Erne Resort and the European Tour and is aware that the Irish Open strategy is under review, however no decision has been made.”
The decision has been made with Portstewart believed to be best placed to host as Tourism NI has a contract in place.
With links courses preferred by McIlroy, the way is clear for clubs such as County Louth, Trump International Golf Links Doonbeg, Ballyliffin, County Sligo or even The European Club (a McIlroy favourite) to be considered.