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Jamie Donaldson will be back to defend the Irish Open title he won at Portrush

Jamie Donaldson will be back to defend the Irish Open title he won at Portrush

Russell Pritchard / Presseye

Jamie Donaldson will be back to defend the Irish Open title he won at Portrush

People power, government cash and Ireland's quartet of Major champions will continue to fuel the Irish Open.

 

But while the European Tour has not given up all hope of ending its three-year quest for a title sponsor that could make it one of the richest events in Europe once more and attract an even better field, they are not going to give it away for a song.

The presence of Major winners Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, as well as Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley and Carton House touring professional Shane Lowry, continues to be crucial to the future of the Irish Open.

But if the European Tour is to boost the current €2m prize fund and attract more players from the world's top 50, it knows it cannot afford to sell the Irish Open cheaply to a potential title sponsor.

“Players have been seduced by the PGA Tour to play for six or seven million dollars every week in life,” explained the European Tour's James Finnigan, the Irish Open's commercial director.

“They take a first-prize cheque that sometimes exceeds the prize fund we have on offer in Europe. The commercial reality is that we have a €2m event and that's a €4m project for the European Tour to deliver a quality tournament.

“We are not going to offer it to a sponsor for a fraction of that price. It needs to be a good cheque which makes a big contribution to the prize fund.”

While matching last year's European Tour record 112,280 attendance for the four tournament days at Royal Portrush is an impossible dream, the European Tour insisted yesterday that advance ticket sales for the Carton House event from June 27-30 are already ahead of those for the weather-lashed 2006 staging at the Maynooth demesne.

Totally reliant on gate receipts, a group of 13 official sponsors and a €1.5m investment by Failte Ireland, the European Tour covers any potential shortfall in the €4m staging costs.

Last year's Irish Open generated a €1m profit but this year the costs include nearly €50,000 to build an amphitheatre style, 1,500-seater grandstand at the par-three 17th, complete with bar and giant screen.

It's not quite the 20,000 capacity “stadium” that makes the par-three 16th in the US Tour's Waste Management Open in Phoenix a non-stop, beer fest. But the tour is hoping that what they've dubbed the “Open House at 17” project will

add to a party atmosphere that could persuade a potential title sponsor that the Irish Open is a great investment.

“The title sponsor cheque is elusive to us right now,” Finnigan said. “But we are hopeful and have a number of people coming to this year's tournament who could make a potential investment.

“We will not mention any names but it will be a great showcase of golf, Ireland and all things European Tour here in the last week in June.

“Hopefully at the end of the week somebody will say, ‘I am brave enough to associate my business with that and develop my business in golf.'

“We were fortunate in the early days to have some individuals who were brave enough to be the title sponsors and unfortunately now we are lacking that in the business community.”

Hoping to tap into a 50,000 population in the catchment area around Carton House, the organisers have launched a ‘Three Towns Initiative' involving festival-style activities in nearby Maynooth, Leixlip and Celbridge.

With the Lions Test set to be shown on giant screens at the course on the Saturday morning, fans are encouraged to snap up a special ‘Super Saturday' ticket, which includes entry to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh later that evening for the all-inclusive price of €50.

As for the field, just five of the world's top 50 are expected, with McIlroy and McDowell joined by Francesco Molinari, Thongchai Jaidee and defending champion Jamie Donaldson.

While it has not been confirmed, it is understood that big-hitting two-time Major winner John Daly is also expected to make a surprise appearance.

Belfast Telegraph