Ballyliffin pushing for 2019 Open curtain-raiser; but will Fáilte Ireland still back Irish Open?

Ballyliffin pushing for 2019 Open curtain-raiser; but will Fáilte Ireland still back Irish Open?
Rory McIlroy speaking to Newstalk's Nathan Murphy on Tuesday

Rory McIlroy speaking to Newstalk's Nathan Murphy on Tuesday

Graeme McDowell believes the Irish Open could act as curtain-raiser for The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019. And host Rory McIlroy clearly doesn't disagree.

While Portstewart is hotly tipped to host the championship next year, McDowell is also hopeful that Ballyliffin will get their wish and stage the irish Open the week before The Open in three years’ time. 

The question is, will Fáilte Ireland still be involved?

The government is investing €1m this year with €750,000 coming from the tourism body and another €250,000 from Sport Ireland. However, we understand that Fáilte Ireland's contribution may fall by €250,000 a year over leaving zero euro for Ballyliffin in 2019.

While he didn't mention them by name and refused point blank to answer a question about the event's future on Wednesday — "Let's get this week out of the way first" — McIlroy was more forthcoming with Denis O'Brien's Newstalk in a Tuesday evening interview with Nathan Murphy, broadcast on Wednesday evening.

Speaking about his decision not to write player IOUs this year (hence the absence of Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els or Sergio Garcia) and given the strategy he's hatched with European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley to build the attractiveness of the event though the prize fund, the venues and the date, he said:

"I think we are trying to build this tournament to where I am not going to have to ask these guys to come and play. 
"For example, I am going to Switzerland to help Sergio out with a day in July. I am going to the South African Open at the end of this year/start of next year for Ernie (Els). The week [last year's Irish Open] took quite a lot out of me so I don't really want to keep writing IOUs to people for coming to play in the Irish Open. So that is why we are trying to build this event up. If you look at it, €4 million this year and hopefully we are going to increase that prize fund a lot over the next few years and make it one of the most prestigious tournaments on the European Tour...
Q Is a links course an advantage?
"I think it is. A good links course definitely entices people to come over and play. If we can get the Irish Open to a links course every year and a suitable date so the guys coming from America can stay here in Europe and build up to the Open Championship, I think that would be ideal. But that's three or four years down the line. That's the overall plan and hopefully we can achieve that."

Representatives from Ballyliffin met with European Tour chief Keith Pelley this week to propose a joint north-south staging in July 2019 with both Donegal County Council and Strabane-Derry City Council offering financial support.

G-Mac said: “I’m speculating as to rumours that you guys I’m sure are all well aware of — I really don’t know anything  concrete — but Portstewart is obviously on the radar for next year. 

“I think it’s coming back south again in 2018, and then perhaps back up to the north in 2019 again, and potentially the week before The Open. I think that would be a natural fit.”

The Scottish Open currently has the week before The Open but McDowell said: "I don’t understand the politics of how all those things work and The Scottish Open is obviously a special event, as well, and they enjoy their slot for The Open. 

“I can't see Aberdeen Asset Management wanting to give that one up too quickly, but I think we've got obviously plenty of fantastic venues around the island, and I'm all for north and south of the border.

“Should it be a links venue? Perhaps. Who knows. The K Club is a great venue and it’s a special place, and I'm actually really excited to be back here. It’s pretty fun.”

We understand Ballyliffin has already guaranteed that they will be able to meet the European Tour's site fee for staging the Irish Open. All the remains now is for the politicians on both sides of the border, the European Tour and Dubai Duty Free, and for Pelley and the Scottish Open sponsors to agree to a date change.