Most lads his age would be splashing their cash on boy toys and have a Ferrari or two parked in the driveway. Rory McIlroy is different. Just 20 and already one of the hottest prospects in world golf, this shrewd youngster is investing in real estate.
Already the owner of a smart detached house in his native Holywood and a plush property on Fermanagh’s exclusive Lough Erne Resort, McIlroy has embarked on a £2.2m project to build a home fit for a golfing prince just outside Belfast.
Having agreed a price for 13-plus acres near the Co Down village of Moneyreagh, McIlroy is planning to install a full-sized driving range and state-of-the-art short game facilities.
“We’ve agreed everything,” said the youngster, who in 21 months as a pro has banked £2.036m prizemoney; a fraction of his off-course earning potential as the world’s most exciting young player.
Shortly after turning pro in September 2007, McIlroy visited Padraig Harrington’s Co Dublin home and was impressed by the facilities at the Open Champion’s disposal.
“At that time I never thought I’d have made enough money to do something like that,” he reveals.
“I’d been looking at land for a while and this place came up. It’s perfect. There’s already a house on five acres and then there’s two four-acre paddocks — one is quite narrow and 280 yards long, so it’ll make a perfect driving range.
“The house is only three years old. It’s a beautiful place. We knew it was just right the first time me and mum and dad went up to have a look at it.”
With the deal due for completion by July 31, McIlroy, as touring pro for the Lough Erne resort, will have no problem finding someone to build the practice facilities.
“I’m actually going to use the guys who built Lough Erne. They’ll come and have a look at what I’ve got and design a place
for me. So I don’t think it’ll cost an astronomical amount,” he explains. “I hope everything will be ready by next spring.”
His decision to invest in property at home and not in Florida underlines McIlroy’s determination to base himself in Europe — for the foreseeable future — and not take out membership of the US Tour.
McIlroy’s attitude is similar to Players-winner Henrik Stenson, who as a member of the Europe’s Tournament Committee, is happy just to play the Majors, World Golf Championships and selected other events in the States without having to commit to the minimum 15 US tournaments required of full PGA Tour members.
Stenson showed his Major-winning potential as he shot the only bogey-free round on Sunday, a stunning 66 on The Stadium Course, which played as mischievously as designer Pete Dye intended, leaving even Tiger Woods bemused in eighth place after a closing 75. Though McIlroy missed a cut for the first time in the US last Friday, he’s as big an asset to the European Tour as Stenson. So his decision to resist the lure of the US circuit and remain at home is a big feather in the cap for European golf.
“I feel more comfortable in Europe,” McIlroy explains. “If I can play 15 events in Europe and then add in the World Championships and Majors, that’s more than enough. I’ll also play a couple in Asia in the winter months and that’d be fine.”
This week, his focus is on the Irish Open at Baltray, where a bumper home crowd should help McIlroy recapture the buzz he felt on his debut at April’s US Masters.
Like many professionals, McIlroy got such a high at Augusta, he felt flat at Hilton Head the following week, though he was surprised when the spark didn’t return at the PGA Tour’s showpiece in Sawgrass. Mind you, playing in the very last group on Friday, after most fans had gone home, hardly helped.
Stenson’s classy finale lent The Players the Major Championship cachet the PGA Tour craves. Victory also lifted the Swede four places to fifth in yesterday’s world rankings, dropping Harrington to eighth.
Yet the atmosphere at The Stadium Course seemed muted this year as recession took its toll. Sawgrass insiders reveal pre-tournament ticket sales were down by 25percent for an event which usually sells out, while the corporate areas, especially around the famous 17th hole, weren’t as boisterous. After Northern Trust, recipients of a US government rescue package, took a shellacking in Washington for spending so much on clients at this year’s Los Angeles Open, other hard-pressed businesses are being very careful with entertainment budgets, severely limiting corporate earnings for golf tournaments around the globe.
Yet the Irish Open, until recently the sick child of the European Tour, boasts new sponsors, — a 20percent increase to its prize fund and the strongest field in years. It’s a mini-miracle.