The festival atmosphere that tournament host Paul McGinley preached to the masses from day one was delivered by everyone in the town of Lahinch, making this year’s Irish Open renewal arguably its best yet.
For the first time in a long time, Club Manager, Paddy Keane had a minute to catch his breath and reflect on a week that meant so much for the region. With the course closed this week for members only, all those who worked tirelessly to produce a spectacle of golf that the country could proudly hang its hat on took stock of all that came before, with Keane unsurprisingly overjoyed with the fruits of months of planning.
“It’s everything we would have wished for and more,” said Keane.
“Wednesday’s Pro-Am is always a crazy day. It’s a different crowd, a lot of concerns over marshalling and that but you need that to get it right for tournament days. Thursday just set the scene for the week; blue skies, bit of a breeze and the drone sending those images around the world – it really set the tone.
“Friday morning was a bit misty and I was delighted with that. I would have hated if they had four days of glorious sunshine! And it didn’t dampen anything because the tone had been set on Thursday. The golf was great but what happened in the village and the surrounding area was just unbelievable – the street entertainment, the parties, music, fireworks – Clare County Council had a magnificent ‘Taste of Clare’.
“It was absolutely everything Paul McGinley had asked for from day one; let’s make it a festival, let’s make it a party and that’s what we did. The amazing thing is that there’s people living in the local community who had never stepped foot on this golf course and they were here for the four days. It felt like an Open Championship – it had that special atmosphere. The stewards were great, the 900 volunteers that we had around the place, 50-odd greenkeepers, six from the United States.
“People had concerns about traffic but the traffic was amazing. Someone told me on Thursday that they left Galway at 1 o’clock and they were sitting in the clubhouse at 2.30 going through Park and Ride. All of that worked. We were involved in everything but the council were involved, the gardai, the European Tour. Even if it was nothing to do with their section, everyone knew what was going on and it just came together. It was just great.”
For Lahinch Golf Club and the wider region, the work’s not quite done yet, however. The flyover videos and marketing montages that have boomed the old links around the world is one thing, but gaining something tangible that will last for months, if not years to come from such a magical marketing experience is now firmly on the agenda.
“In the next week or two, we need to sit down and figure out how we leverage that for the region,” Keane added. “We get 1.6 million visitors to the Cliffs of Moher. We’re maxed out at the golf club anyway. The difficulty here is that people come and go, they don’t stay in the region. Come, stay a night or two, do the Cliffs, the Burren, golf, surf, whatever it is and move on. That’s what this week was all about; showcasing that offer around the world.
“The Golf Channel came over. Failte Ireland provided the financial assistance and we had eight hours live Thursday and Friday, five hours live right across the States and the reaction we’ve got from the US has been amazing. The local community nationally don’t know about that. The reaching that has done – you’re talking about over 500million homes – and that’s where the real benefit is going to come from, next year and the year after.”
The overwhelming success of the event has understandably led to calls for a repeat, with Shane Lowry among those already stating that he’d happily return to Lahinch next year. However, like any classic hit, a sequel always risks muddying the waters and for now, Keane believes that Lahinch has done its bit for the future of the tournament.
“I’d say we’ve done our bit,” Keane concluded. “We’re a very busy club. The members have been discommoded for a long period. It has impacted our green fee revenue as well. It was never about the club. If it was, we wouldn’t do it. You only do things again if you can do them better than what you’ve done before and I at the present moment in time cannot see that. Maybe in 20 or 30 years’ time, people may have forgotten but right now, I can’t see it.
“I was standing on the back of the 18th green when Jon Rahm’s group came in and I waited until the end and John Gleeson who’s Chairman of our championship committee was with me and Paraic Slattery who was Captain two years ago and they said just enjoy this; enjoy the crowd, the ropes coming down and the people in behind this because you’ll never see it again. We cannot do this again because we just can’t top what has happened.”
From all at Irish Golfer, Take a bow Lahinch, it will be a tough show to follow.