It wasn’t all that long ago when the future of the Irish Open was riddled with doubt. The money wasn’t there, the players weren’t coming and even the most optimistic would’ve struggled to identify a potential sponsor to spare the tournament’s doom. Fast forward to this week’s renewal at Lahinch and with title sponsor, Dubai Duty Free committed to the Irish Open – now a $7 million Rolex Series event – until 2022, it’s hard to recall our National Open ever being stronger.
For Dubai Duty Free Chief Executive Officer and former Lahinch member, Colm McLoughlin, the journey to this week’s Irish Open started long before now.
“We first became involved in sport sponsorship in Ireland when I met the late Michael Osbourne (Curragh) at Gatwick and he asked if we would sponsor a race for what he was trying to make a Dubai Day,” he recalled.
“I said yes and that was back in 2003, and in 2008 we took over the title sponsorship of the Irish Derby which was suffering at that time with no title sponsor. Since then the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, now in its 12th year has become a key racing and social fixture and I think that we have contributed towards that growth.
“When we were first approached to be title sponsor of the Irish Open, it was clear that Rory McIlroy through his Foundation, was going to try and revive the tournament and we gave it one year to test the waters. We were happy with the results and have signed on now for a few more years. It has to make economic sense for us to sponsor major sporting events and so far, both events in Ireland have delivered on the return on investment.”
Dubai Duty Free’s decision to back McIlroy’s vision has certainly paid dividends, with last year’s renewal at Ballyliffin generating US$158 million in TV exposure alone. McLoughlin is hopeful that this year’s tournament at County Clare will exceed those numbers and with the SkySports A-team of Ewen Murray and Rich Beem in town, it won’t be for a lack of trying.
All that’s left is to roll out the red carpet for Lahinch, with Dubai Duty Free, who never lose sight of the host town when it comes to an event, ensuring it might even shine that bit brighter when broadcast to homes around the world this week on TV.
“It’s essential for us that the local communities feel connected to whatever tournament or event we are sponsoring as it helps drive and foster goodwill and greater understanding of our brand,” added McLoughlin.
“This year we are doing a Best Dressed Window Competition for all the towns and villages around Lahinch and have invested in 10km worth of bunting and flags for traders to use in their displays. It’s going to make the place look spectacular, not that it needs much help in that regard.”