McIlroy ready for Challenge
By strictly limiting attendance to 5,000 people this year, the organisers of the Lough Erne Challenge hope to iron out the teething troubles from last summer's competition.
Over 6,000 crammed onto the Lough Erne course to see Rory McIlroy beat Padraig Harrington last July.
And with only one way to reach the course, via the Belleek Road out of Enniskillen, that caused huge tailbacks with the last three miles out of the town to the course taking over an hour to complete.
“Ticket sales were initially quite slow for last year's event, so we really had no idea how many were going to turn up,” said Johnny O'Shea from organisers Platinum One.
“Probably the fact that it was a sunny morning last year prompted a lot of people to turn up on the day.
“There's only one match out on the course, so a limit of 5,000 is sensible.”
The inaugural challenge, which McIlroy won with a four under par 68 by two shots over triple Major winner Padraig Harrington, was still a major success for the resort and the Sir Nick Faldo designed course, which had only just opened its doors.
The highlights package by European Tour Productions was shown in more than 40 countries and it gathered the fifth highest audience for any golf event shown last year by Sky Sports, which broadcast the programme no less than 11 times.
This year the event has been expanded to a fourball with McIlroy captaining fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke, while Harrington will play with the reigning Irish Open champion Shane Lowry on Wednesday, July 21, the week after the Open Championship at St Andrews.
There will, no doubt, be a personal wager or two on the Northern Ireland versus Republic contest involving four of the island’s top players.
Ticket prices have also been reduced from £40 by £10 from last year.
“We think that better reflects the times we live in and the lower price should also help with initial ticket sales,” explained O'Shea.
Tickets can be bought online at www.lougherneresort.com or www.platinumonegroup.com and go on sale from Monday.
Meanwhile McIlroy says he has no doubt that the Lough Erne course, where he is the touring professional, could host a European Tour event.
“It could certainly stand up to staging a big tournament,” he explained.
“Obviously it would need the backing of a good sponsor,” said McIlroy.
“They've got everything they need here with the hotel rooms and Enniskillen is a great town,” he added.
“It's just the way that the world is at the minute — not many people want to throw two or three million pounds into a golf tournament.
“But sometime in the future, who knows?
“The golf course is certainly good enough and they could set it up to be very difficult if they wanted to, although it's a tricky enough course as it is.”