Opportunity knocks for Lahinch and Dubai Duty Free Irish Open
The par-three 11th at Lahinch

The par-three 11th at Lahinch

Ballyliffin's remote location and the fact that many star players voted with their Ryder Cup hearts and played in Paris rather than Donegal had a major effect on the field in last week's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

Had it not been for the terrific weather, the four-day attendance of 82,752 might not have outstripped Carton House in 2013 (81,379), The K Club in 2016 (75,865) or Portstewart last year (79,856).

But the fact that the global attendance was not far short of Royal County Down in 2013, when 13 of the world's top 50 played compared to six last week, may prove that good weather trumps a stellar field when it comes to an Irish Open.

In Ireland, that's never a guarantee.

How many of the world's top 50  — or how many global stars — turn up for Paul McGinley in Lahinch next year remains to be seen. But it's clear that it will be a far different playing field with the global golfing calendar set to undergo a profound change in 2019.

With The Players moving to March, the US PGA to May, the FedEx Cup playoffs concluding in August and the BMW PGA at Wentworth going to September, the Irish Open will be played from July 4-7, two weeks before The Open at Royal Portrush.

Irish Open attendances - tournament days only - since 2011

  1. 2012 Royal Portrush 112,280
  2. 2014 Fota Island 97,889
  3. 2015 Royal County Down 95,667
  4. 2011 Killarney 85,179
  5. 2018 Ballyliffin 82,752
  6. 2013 Carton House 81,379
  7. 2016 The K Club 75,865
  8. 2017 Portstewart 79,856

What effect that has on the field at Lahinch is unknown right now but it's not a Ryder Cup year and so the Open de France, which will lose its sponsor HNA next year, may lose prestige.

The Irish Open will be a $7 million event once more and the only impediment to attracting US players, for example, will be the 4th of July date, which is a week the Americans like to keep free for family reasons.

The Greenbrier event, which clashed with the Irish Open this year, is moving to the autumn which means Lahinch may be competing with the new, 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities in Minnesota, which is a former PGA Tour Champions event. It will have a $6.6 million purse for the first year of its seven-year deal.

"I think the fact that the French Open was at the Ryder Cup course this year, in a Ryder Cup year, that had an effect," said Des Smyth, an ambassador for the sponsors, Dubai Duty Free. 

"But I think next year you will see the opposite. It's all about scheduling and as much as many of them would have liked to be here, they said, I am going to play in the French, the Scottish and the Open. 

"Next year there will be a build up Irish-Scottish-Open that's the plan. But the great news is that Rory, as far as I know, is always going to support Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. 

"The fact that it is in Lahinch next year means easy access, Shannon's a piece of cake. There were issues here [in Ballyiffin] — a private chartered plane was needed to get them in and get them out — and it wasn't easy."

With the top players playing for $7m every other week, having an airport near a venue can be a major factor when it comes to scheduling. 

"I was a naysayer I have admit," Smyth said of Ballyliffin. "I thought it was a bit of a risk. But it's done better than we thought."

Paul McGinley, who will take over as host next year, has no doubt that the fact that the Open de France was at Le Golf National in a Ryder Cup year had a knock on effect for Ballyliffin and the players, always prone to lemming-like thinking, fell into line.

"A lot of them for some reason have decided to play the Scottish," he said. "It was the same a few years ago at Royal Co Down when a flurry of guys decided they wanted to play there."

Smyth believes Ireland will receive the flurry of entries at Lahinch next year as Ireland becomes flavour of the month with the Ryder Cup out of the picture and The Open returning to Royal Portrush. 

The Scottish Open date is locked in with a TV contract and while many believe that the Dubai Duty Free want the early July date because it follows the Derby at the Curragh, it's not a deal-breaker for the sponsor by any means.

McGinley certainly won't be asking Rory McIlroy to lean on top players to play in Lahinch but will, no doubt, have ideas to attract players that will capture the imagination of the Irish public.

"If he does six favours he has six commitments for one of his commitment," he said of McIlroy.

Good weather will help but it's creating a party atmosphere that will make the Irish Open special and Ballyliffin's success can only help reinforce the feeling among the players that it's an event worth playing 

The venue, which will be set up to replicate the conditions players will face at Royal Portrush, will be key and it will simply come down to a choice between the village atmosphere in Lahinch and the attractions of The Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club.