Lahinch will be "major" attraction for Open hopefuls
Lahinch's famous goats

Lahinch's famous goats

Paul McGinley wants Lahinch to be a "major" party when he hosts the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at the iconic Co Clare links.

Player power was key to the decision to award the event to what's considered the St Andrews of Ireland from July 4-7 next year.

And the Dubliner (51) believes that giving world's best a major championship workout just two weeks before Royal Portrush hosts The Open, will attract a major style field and give golf fans in the west and south-west the chance to make Lahinch a massive, week-long party. 

While there was talk of a date swap with the Scottish Open to host the Irish Open the week before The Open n 2019, a pre-existing TV deal with US TV to broadcast that event live made that faint hope a non-runner.

Despite that McGinley still believes that many players will prefer to play two weeks before Portrush rather than a week before.

"We don't know where the Scottish Open is going to be so while some players play the Irish and skip the Scottish some will skip the Scottish and play the Irish," he said.

The driveable par-four 13th is likely to have a large grandstand behind the green for the 2019 Irish Open

The driveable par-four 13th is likely to have a large grandstand behind the green for the 2019 Irish Open

Ireland will be the centre of world golf in July next year and that means that players will come over the own volition without the need for McGinley to ask the likes of Rory McIlroy to do favours for other marquee players to attract them to Lahinch.

There's been talk in tour circles of appearances by the likes of Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson. And with Phil Mickelson an honorary member, his presence must surely be on the cards. The annual quest to get Tiger Woods to play will undoubtedly go on. But for McGinley, the key is to set up Lahinch to mimic the conditions the players are likely to find at Royal Portrush. That's his trump card.

"I don’t want to call in favours, I want players to come of their own accord," he said. "I want to say to the guys that if you really want good preparation for The Open, the Irish Open is going to provide that.”

"I've been talking to the R&A and I am going to align with them in terms of the course set up — fairway widths, rough heights and green speeds — because the terrain is not dissimilar.

"I did that in Wales before the Ryder Cup and the players enjoyed playing there knowing it was going to be a similar set up to Gleneagles."

He's also keen to showcase Irish golf to the rest of the world and with a global TV audience of close to 500 million in 150 countries set to tune in to see McIlroy and Co take in iconic holes like the blind par three fourth, the Dell, or the iconic Klondyke, it's a chance to sell Ireland to the world.

"I want a festival atmosphere and for the fans to really get involved and having a good time," he said. 

"I want the players involved as well. They are all the things that add to the theatre of an event which is crucial when TV pictures go out across the world. 

Looking back down the fairway from the top of the mound that protects the par-five fourth, Klondyke, which is likely to be a par-four for the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open 

Looking back down the fairway from the top of the mound that protects the par-five fourth, Klondyke, which is likely to be a par-four for the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open 

"Having big crowds is important so I certainly want to get people really engaged and invigorated to see what will no doubt be a really strong field. 

"Rory is going to play and anybody who comes after that will be a bonus.

"They don't get a huge amount of top-class sporting events there so we are going to do a lot of engagement with the community now that the big circus is coming to town.

"It is going to bring millions of euro into the local area and with golf a very important part of what the government does in bringing millions into the economy, particularly from Americans. 

"It's going to be live on the Golf Channel and with The Open coming up two weeks later it's a chance to showcase Ireland and showcase Lahinch.

"We have the Cliffs of Moher just a few miles down the road and I am keen to bring that into what we are doing. The location of the tented village will be key too so there are lots of ideas and it's just a question of what is achievable.

"Lahinch made a fantastic, hugely professional presentation to the European Tour and the whole community has really bought into this. It's fantastic."

With Shannon airport close by and 10,000 hotel rooms within easy reach, McGinely still had to work hard to persuade the tour and sponsors Dubai Duty Free that the southwest was a better commercial option than the capital or other areas further north 

"There was due consideration for Portmarnock Links and there are a lot of benefits to a Dublin venue," he said of a decision process that also considered Co Sligo and the European Club amongst others. 

"I had a voice and Dubai Duty Free had a very big voice as did the European Tour. But of the three voices, I was loud and I am glad they came around to my way of thinking. 

"A lot of the market in Dublin will be geared towards  Portrush, so the biggest thing that Lahinch had going for it, aside from the golf course, was moving away from  Portrush and not trying to compete with the Open Championship but to complement it.

"It opens up a whole new market with three of the biggest cities — Limerick, Cork and Galway — all within striking distance and that means we'll have a different potential crowd.  

"It's unlikely people are going to buy tickets to two golf tournaments in the space of three weeks so when it came to opening up that market in the south-west, Lahinch was a prime venue for me."

In order not to steal Ballyliffin's thunder, the announcement was made a week after the Irish Open media day at the Donegal venue, which means that Lahinch officials will be able to go to this year's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to learn from John Farren and his team and see how it's done first hand. 

Unlike the newer Glashedy Course, which measures some 7,500 yards, Lahinch is a par-72 measuring 7,050 yards thanks to the addition new tees at the 17th and 18th, which have added 100 yards. 

It's likely to be a par-70 for the $7 million-plus Rolex Series extravaganza, however, with the downhill, 534-yard, par-five second and iconic, 474-yard par-five fourth, Klondyke, almost certain to be played as stour par-fours given they are reachable in two with short irons when played downwind, especially for power hitters like McIlroy and current holder Jon Rahm.

The goats are Lahinch's weather forecasters. If they are out on the links, it will be fine. If they are near the clubhouse, beware.

Given that scenario — a 7,000-yard par-70 Lahinch —  McGinley believes the course created by Old Tom Morris and redesigned by Alister MacKenzie before its revamp in 2000 by Dr Martin Hawrtree, will be more than strong enough provided a serious test for players preparing for a major. If the wind blows hard, it will be an even better test.

"The Dell — (a blind par three) and the Klondyke are two holes the players won't be used to," he said. "But it's part of the character of the course. They are unique and part of the tradition of Lahinch. 

"It is not too dissimilar to Portrush in that it's not one of those huge courses but more positional. And like St Andrews it finishes in the middle of the town. 

"With the Castle course across the road serving as the range and a major airport down the road in Shannon flying into Heathrow regularly, it ticks a lot of boxes." 

A new practice tee at the Castle Course, built with events like next year's Home Internationals and the 2020 Arnold Palmer Cup in mind, will host practice with the club's new short game area soon to be complemented by an indoor facility.

Meetings have already taken place with the Clare County Council, the local Gardai and fire officers and a park-and-ride and a one-way traffic system are two likely measures that will be put in place for the busy seaside town with the closure of the Liscannor Road that runs alongside the 18th also a possibility

It will be a busy time for Lahinch, which also hosts next year's amateur Men's Home Internationals as well as the 2020 Arnold Palmer Cup.

But while the club will lose significant green fee revenue in high season, when it is traditional booked out from dawn to dusk, the worldwide exposure will more than compensate.

Paddy Keane, General Manager of Lahinch Golf Club, said: "We're thrilled. The long-term benefits are enormous. When you have an event that is broadcast coast to coast, live in the US and across Europe and the Middle East. 

"2019 is going to be a very special year for golf in Ireland, particularly links golf. The eyes of the world are going to be on Ireland in the month of July, and it is going to be Lahinch the first week in July followed by Portrush two weeks later. 

"What greater advertisement can you get for Irish golf, going one of the legendary links on the southwest coast up to the northeast coast for The Open?

"It's an opportunity to host with Paul, who has a very close links with Lahinch. He caddied for his father in many Souths and winning the South of Ireland in 1991propelled him onto the Walker Cup team and started his professional career. 

"So it is wonderful to work with someone who has a great love of the place and an appreciation of what the village is all about, promoting golf. 

"It is really exciting times and an opportunity to showcase Lahinch, the west coast and indeed, the whole county of Clare.

"Yes, there will be some inconvenience in the locality, but the benefits far outweigh any disturbance."

McGinley has nothing but happy memories of Lahinch.

"I have a lot of memories," he said. "Caddying for my dad was my strongest memory and playing in the South a few times. I remember staying in the Aberdeen Arms, which was a big treat at the time. 

"Without that win in the South of Ireland in 1991 it's unlikely I would have turn pro. It was very much touch and go for the Walker Cup team and I needed to win something to make it. 

But I won back to back — I won Lahinch and won Mullingar the following week and that propelled me into the team. 

"I remember the final against Philip Johns very well and I remember Brud Slattery meeting me on the 18th green and saying he'd watched 40 or 50 South finals and that one was the best quality final he'd ever seen. 

"I'd always aspired to winning there and having my photograph up on the wall as a finalist with the captain as you walk in the clubhouse.  That's a great tradition."
Whoever eventually strides down the par-five 18th will be walking in the footsteps of the legends of the Irish game from John Burke and JB Carr to Darren Clarke, McGinley, Graeme McDowell and Harrington, who lost two south finals but came back to win the Irish Close.

"It's one we all have over Rory," McGinley teased.