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Forget G8, Irish Open at Lough Erne will be bigger

Director of Golf McCool confident Fermanagh resort will deliver successful event

By Steven Beacom

It was Royal Portrush in 2012 and Royal County Down this year. Both golf courses proved to be wonderful hosts for the Irish Open.

The next time the tournament is back in Northern Ireland will be in 2017 when the Lough Erne Resort, just outside Enniskillen, will stage the event.

The people of Fermanagh have already started preparing for what will be the biggest sporting event ever in the county.

Five years ago the Lough Erne Challenge saw Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke take on Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry in front of around 4,000 spectators.

Lynn McCool, Director of Golf and Head Professional at the Lough Erne club, estimates up to five times that number could be in attendance when the Irish Open comes to the Sir Nick Faldo- designed course.

She enjoyed spending time at Royal County Down this year and can't wait for the tournament to arrive in the Lakelands, believing it will be bigger and better for the county than the G8 summit in 2013 when world leaders such as US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister David Cameron and the global media descended on the Lough Erne location.

"We are very excited about the Irish Open coming to our course at the Lough Erne resort," said Lynn.

"We had the G8, of course, but this will be even bigger than that. It is a world class event.

"I am very passionate about the fantastic Nick Faldo course that we have and I have always said that it can be up there with other courses on a world stage and no better way to do that than with the Irish Open.

"We have seen the success of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush and Royal County Down and in 2017 it will be Lough Erne's and Fermanagh's time to be showcased around the world. Fermanagh will benefit big time by staging the Irish Open."

The Lough Erne's Director of Golf hits back at suggestions that the Enniskillen venue won't be able to attract huge numbers, as has been the case in the tournament's two most recent visits to Northern Ireland.

In 2012 and this year the sell-out signs were up at the Irish Open. McCool is hopeful of a hat-trick in 2017.

"Some people may say it is out of the way, but I don't see it like that," insisted Lynn.

"You have Donegal and Leitrim beside you and five counties surrounding Fermanagh.

"We are less than two hours from Dublin and we are just 80 minutes away from Belfast and the roads are really good now because the infrastructure has improved so much.

"I believe Lough Erne will be a superb venue for a big golf tournament. I would hope we would sell out as well."

Asked for possible numbers given that Royal County Down had the capacity to sell 20,000 tickets each day, following on from Royal Portrush which sold 30,000 daily, McCool stated: "20,000 plus."

Before then there will be much work to do in terms of organising the erection of tented villages and grandstands as well as accomodating the spectators around the course.

"The success of Royal Portrush would have helped Royal County Down and they would have been able to share information and notes and I'm sure I'll be paying Mr David Wilson, the secretary at Royal County Down, a visit to get some inside tips," revealed Lynn.

"There are talks ongoing about the course. Our course finishes with a par three but what a tremendous par three it is.

"It's like an amphitheatre with the hotel overlooking it.

"There's not that much work needs done to the course. Every hole is exciting and our greenkeeper Sean Reilly does a fantastic job.

"A number of years ago when Rory, Darren, Padraig and Shane played the Challenge event they said they were the finest greens they had played."

A big factor in the success of this year's Irish Open, won by Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen was the quality of the field.

There was one reason for that: Rory himself. The world number one's Foundation, the charitable arm of his global brand, hosted the tournament and the four-time Major champion brought on board sponsors Dubai Duty Free as well as persuading huge names such as Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els to play in Northern Ireland.

"Rory did such a great job with the tournament. I would love to see him do it long term. It benefits his Foundation and it certainly benefits the Irish Open to have his backing and it helps the European Tour as well," said McCool.

"For the field that was assembled for this year's Irish Open we really have to thank Rory because I doubt any other player could have brought over players like Ernie, Sergio, Rickie Fowler and all the others.

"We have to be hopeful that another good field could be attracted to the Irish Open in Fermanagh and that Dubai Duty Free, having witnessed the success of the event, stay on board because having a big sponsor is important.

"I've been promoting golf for years and now to see everyone else getting behind it, from the Tourist Board to the general public, is brilliant because we have such great players from here and great courses to be proud of in Northern Ireland."

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