We’ve come a long way – The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open

Bernie McGuire

The Irish Open is now one of the biggest and richest events on the European Tour and fingers crossed it will only get bigger and better as the years tick by.

The first ever Irish Open was played at Portmarnock in 1927 and annually thereafter until 1950 when it broke due to the war and then returned in 1953.  That was the last we saw of the event until it re-appeared in 1975 at Woodbrook where the late Christy O’Connor Jnr. took the title.

Looking back at the history of the event the winning roster is a veritable who’s who of golf, from Whitcombe, Daly and Bradshaw to Crenshaw, Torrance and Ballesteros to Langer, Faldo and Montgomerie with many winning multiple times along the way.  The days of multiple wins at the Irish Open would appear to be over though with every winner since 1999, excluding Colin Montgomerie in 2001, being a one time winner (as things stand).

Not that this affects the tournament of course, but it’s interesting when you look at the number of first time (and in many cases only time) winners on the European Tour, PGA Tour and of course the other satellite Tours etc. It has become so hard to win multiple times on any Tour.  The standard is extremely high, higher it could be argued than it has ever been, and multiple wins seem to be the exclusive domain of the world’s top players with the likes of Thomas, McIlroy, Johnson et al getting plenty of notches on their belts.

Not that they have it all that easy either! Just look at the success that Rory McIlroy has had. In the 2018 season alone, at the time of writing, he has played in 14 events between the European Tour and PGA Tour with 1 win, 2 second places, 1 third place, 1 fifth, 1 eighth and 2 other top twenties. And he is being lambasted in the media for not winning enough!  Okay, he’s missed a number of cuts too, most notably at the US Open but come on! Multiple winning isn’t easy, give the guy a break!

Over the last number of years of course McIlroy and his Foundation have been the Hosts for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and while he took the event in fine style at the K Club in 2016, all the duties and requirements that come with playing host at a Rolex Series event with €7 million on the table must surely be a huge distraction in tournament week?  Which just makes his winning the tournament in ’16 even more impressive.

Fast forward a couple of years and the Irish Open, which was languishing a little before the Rory Foundation and Dubai Duty Free came on board, is now like a shiny new penny and one of the most prominent and richest tournaments on the European Tour.  Dubai Duty Free have renewed their sponsorship, effectively securing the tournament status for the next few years and there are a host of other sponsors now involved too.  No surprise then that we will be seeing such leading lights as McIlroy, defending Champion Jon Rahm and Rafa Cabrera Bello teeing it up on the Glashedy Course at Ballyliffin. They will be joined of course by some of our own Irish players such as Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Paul Dunne and of course Padraig Harrington and it is all set to be another wonderful instalment of what has become a superb Championship.

The course at Ballyliffin will be superb, of that we can be assured. If you are in any doubt about how tough it will be you only have to hear that it was designed by the legendary Pat Ruddy and is as exposed to the elements as it can possibly be as it runs in and out along the Inishowen coastline. It is a beast of course for mere mortals from a forward tee and if the wind picks up it will be a stern test for the anointed few that will have the pleasure to play at the DDF Irish Open.

The courses along this stretch of the North West are simply superb and can be spoken about in the same breath as the best around, but if you question many golfers, both from Ireland and overseas, many have not had the pleasure of playing some of them.

How will it all work out and who is likely to win is anyone’s guess but suffice to say that the promotion for Donegal as a golfing region and standalone golf destination will be outstanding. With the eyes of the world media on Ballyliffin for a week in July would it be too much to ask for some sunshine to further enhance the television images and photography that will fill the websites, newspapers, magazines and television screens?  Maybe it would, the Irish Open isn’t usually known for its favourable weather after all!

Regardless of the weather, the media coverage can only be good. For too long this part of Ireland has suffered at the hands of the South West, and the rest of the country in golfing terms. The courses along this stretch of the North West are simply superb and can be spoken about in the same breath as the best around, but if you question many golfers, both from Ireland and overseas, many have not had the pleasure of playing some of them. Drop names like Rosapenna, Portsalon, Enniscrone, Rosses Point and Carne into a golfing conversation and you may be surprised at how few people have taken the time to make the trip. Trust me, it’s worth it; put it on your 2019 to do list, or better still your 2018 to do list and get over there.

So where will the DDF Irish Open go from here? Well, venue-wise it moves to Lahinch in 2019 but maybe more interestingly, the hosting duties will pass from McIlroy to Paul McGinley for next year with the task then falling to Harrington, Clarke and McDowell.  This speaks to the level and volume of the demands placed on a player when hosting a tournament which clearly are not to be underestimated. Sponsor requirements and media interviews alone can add significant time and effort for the host and perhaps it is with this in mind that McIlroy has decided that now is the right time to step aside and let others take up the mantle?  Whatever the reason, it can only help his chances of becoming a multiple Irish Open winner in the coming years.

Lahinch of course, like all venues, will be a wonderful host to the event when it lands there in 2019, particularly as the year marks the arrival on our shoes of The Open Championship and one would have to expect that a multitude of the top stars of world golf will be in attendance. For this reason I for one am delighted that the event has stayed on a links course, which most golfers would believe is preferable. Whether it stays that way after 2019 is a topic for debate with Adare Manor waiting in the wings with eyes perhaps on a bigger prize should they have a successful hosting or three? Maybe we should be looking to promote an alternate links – parkland rota given that the majority of golf courses in Ireland are parkland and many of them are more than good enough to host the event, but we will wait and see.

Whatever the weather, the news or the future of the event, this year the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be a fantastic event. It’s on a great course, there’s a superb field, the Irish fans will flock in their thousands to support it as usual and all we can hope for is that we have some Irish interests at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon.

Best wishes to John Farren and his team at Ballyliffin, we’re looking forward to seeing you.

This article is taken from the July edition of Irish Golfer Magazine. To read the magazine in full CLICK HERE

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