Willett set for next month's Irish Open but Lough Erne loses out in 2017
Danny Willett

Danny Willett

Newly crowned Masters champion Danny Willett will keep his promise and play next month’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at The K Club.

But while the bad news is that next year’s event has been pulled from the Lough Erne Resort by the European Tour and links gem Portstewart has been considered as a potential host venue.

Parkland venue Lough Erne was sold to American investors in 2014 and with Irish Open host Rory McIlroy more keen on links courses, the decision two year ago to go to the Fermanagh venue has been reversed.

In a statement, European Tour boss 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.”

Next month’s Irish Open, scheduled for May 190-22, will feature McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Irish major winners Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.

Masters winner Willett is also scheduled to play and his manager, Chubby Chandler, confirming in Augusta on Sunday that he will keep that promise and join runner-up Lee Westwood in Co Kildare.

Chandler said: “Everything stays the same. He's even playing the World Cup and that will be the end of his year.

"He’s definitely playing Ireland, the BMW PGA, the TPC, France, maybe Scotland, the Open, the US PGA, the Olympics, Switzerland and the Ryder Cup.”

As for Lough Erne, it’s been an open secret for 18 months that the Fermanagh venue was not considered a viable option, especially with a hefty hosting fee of up to €500,000 payable to the European Tour.

McIlroy was once attached to the resort where he had a home as part of his deal with former owner and family friend Jim Treacy, a Fermanagh native

But Treacy’s dream resort (and his supermarket chain) fell into financial difficulties following the global financial collapse of 2008.

Bank of Scotland Ireland eventually pulled the plug in 2011, appointing administrators to Lough Erne which was sold to Illinois based Vine Avenue Advisors for a reported €10.5m in 2014 

While plans for 2017 and beyond are still being finalised, Portstewart Golf Club is one of the front runners to host in 2017.

Secretary manager Michael Moss said last year ”We’d like to do it.

"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, the obvious next choice is Portstewart. We could host the Irish Open tomorrow. The course is ready.”

With links courses also preferred by McIlroy, the way is clear for clubs such as County Louth, Donald Trump’s Doonbeg, Ballyliffin, County Sligo or even The European Club to make bids.

Portmarnock’s men only policy means it can’t host the Irish Open but it looks set to land the 2019 British Amateur championship to coincide with its 125th anniversary.

Royal Portrush will host The Open in 2019 while Donegal links Ballyliffin wants that year’s Irish Open in a cross-border bid that might appeal to both governments.