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Irish Open enjoys a rebirth: Fans now savouring a summer spectacular

By Karl MacGinty

As the European golf circus and its star performers upped tents and left the lovely shores of Lough Leane yesterday, the clamour had already begun for the ‘3’ Irish Open to return there next summer.

Ireland’s national championship was reborn over the August Bank Holiday weekend in Killarney.

After five years in which Europe’s finest were brutalised by horribly wet and cold weather in Ireland each May, the event’s relocation to high summer in one of the nation’s liveliest and most beautiful tourism hotspots was a roaring success.

To a man, the stars want to go back to The Kingdom next year, while Killarney Golf and Fishing Club and the town itself, delighted by a €30m boost to the local economy, would love to become the tournament’s annual home, as Augusta National is to the US Masters.

Okay, that may be stretching it.

Yet the Irish Open certainly needs a couple more years of convalescence in Killarney to truly restore its once-proud reputation as one of the most player-friendly tournaments on the European schedule.

Not to mention Ireland’s image as a beautiful, relaxed and fun-loving place to bring all the family, whether you’re a competitor at the Irish Open or an everyday golfer.

Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke all insist on a positive word of last week’s tournament; the inspiring way the course played and the convivial local atmosphere will spread throughout locker rooms in professional golf.

Yet it’ll take more than one summer to repair the damage done by years of complacency and neglect in the run-up to and after the 2006 Ryder Cup.

How lovely to hear Minister Mary Hanafin and the Bord Failte boys warble with delight over the weekend about the positive im

pact TV images of this year’s Open in Killarney were already having in the US and around the world.

Yet Lough Leane, the towering McGillycuddy Reeks and the Killeen Course at Killarney had been every bit as beautiful and alluring for the 18 summers since the Irish Open was last played there in 1992.

Only nobody bothered to showcase them at the Irish Open during the Celtic Tiger era.

The K Club was mecca and, anyway, weren’t golf tourists queuing in their droves for trans-Atlantic flights to Dublin and Shannon.

Anyway, the Tour used to demand fees of up to €200,000 and more from any course wishing to host the Irish Open, which, naturally, militated against member clubs (like Killarney and the leading links).

The picture has changed markedly in recent recessionary years.

Now nobody can afford to pay site fees on top of the huge investment required to stage an Irish Open.

For example, Killarney spent about €300,000 refurbishing their clubhouse and other ancillary facilities for the Open.

However, the international inquiries which have poured in since last Thursday’s first round hit the airwaves suggest their money,

sweat and time were well invested.

The tour executive certainly heaved a sigh of relief at 81,378 spectators came pouring through the gates over the four days of the tournament.

After underwriting the Irish Open each year since 2004, at a cumulative cost of several millions of euro, their board of directors had begun to doubt the viability of Ireland’s lame-duck of a national open.

Not any more, so enthusiastically did the Irish public embrace the opportunity of watching this country’s ‘Golden Generation’ of professional golfers go through their paces.

By any calculation, the best attendance at an Irish Open since Ian Woosnam beat Philip Walton in a playoff at Portmarnock in 1989 will allow the event to break even for the first time in eight years.

Basically, the people of Ireland dug deep into their own pockets and obliterated any lingering doubts about the viability of their national championship.

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