Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Irish Open: Stage set for classy Royal show

Rory McIlroy fires a shot down the fairway durign his first round at the Players Championship at Sawgrass

Local golfing superstars Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell playing at next month’s Irish Open at Royal Portrush will set the tournament apart from anything that has gone before.

That is the message from European Tour chiefs as momentum builds for the first Irish Open in Northern Ireland since 1953.

Never before has an Irish Open boasted such a powerful home challenge — McIlroy and McDowell won the last two US Opens while Clarke is Open champion.

Add current US PGA champion Keegan Bradley and three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington to the mix and it is clear that the 2012 Irish Open possesses a star-studded line-up the like of which has never been seen before at the tournament.

“We are in a fortunate position to have the likes of Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell competing,” said European Tour Commercial Director James Finnigan.

“It will be a world class tournament — one of the best Tour events ever.”

The tournament received a big boost this week with news that leading investment management company Brewin Dolphin is coming on board as an official sponsor.

And Tour boss Finnigan said that the Irish Open at Royal Portrush compares favourably with other tournaments in terms of interest from sponsors.

“We have had a few tournaments that have struggled for sponsorship,” he said. “But the Tour believes in the Irish Open.

“Sponsorship is an on-going challenge the Tour faces. That is a sign of the times we are living in. We have to remember we are living in the toughest economic times in a generation,” said Finnigan, adding that there would be further sponsorship developments in the weeks ahead.

The Tour boss also paid tribute to Royal Portrush for staging the tournament without a fee.

Already ticket sales have surpassed all expectations with the ‘sold out’ signs fast approaching for Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1.

The event opens with a practice day on Tuesday, June 26 followed by a pro-am on Wednesday and the opening two rounds on Thursday and Friday.

Organisers yesterday announced a Traffic and Transportation Plan for the tournament, which is expected to attract over 100,000 spectators over the course of the week.

Irish Open Championship Director Antonia Beggs said: “The combination of substantial advance ticket sales and the success of the home grown Irish players were the catalysts behind the important announcement in Belfast.

“With such large spectator numbers expected for the Irish Open, all the key bodies and authorities have put their weight behind this Traffic and Transportation Plan and the European Tour would like to thank everyone associated with this strategy for their co-operation in creating a plan which we are confident will enhance the experience of attending this superb tournament.”

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster echoed the Tour’s call for people to purchase tickets early.

“Such is the interest in the Irish Open, the European Tour believes the weekend could be a sell-out,” the Minister said.

“This is fantastic news as increased ticket sales will result in increased revenue.

“The Northern Ireland Executive has given a commitment to ensure that the Irish Open will be a success and this news proves we are on track to achieve just that.”

All that’s needed now is sunshine and a home victory.

World number one McIlroy will start favourite and the bookies usually aren’t far wrong.

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