The 2020 vision for our Irish Open’s July date is looking rather bleak after the powerhouses of the PGA Tour nailed the colours of St Jude to our week on the calendar, July 2-5 next year.
The much–mooted move was set in stone following Brooks Koepka’s demolition of Rory McIlroy at the WGC event on Sunday in Memphis, perhaps symbolising how the recent negotiations went between PGA Tour Commissioner, Jay Monahan and European Tour CEO, Keith Pelley. The pair entered talks ahead of this year’s Open Championship at Portrush but as expected, Pelley’s dazzling pocket handkerchief simply served as a flag to wave in flamboyant surrender as Monahan toasted to another win for the all-conquering American Dream.
It was like taking candy from a baby, the Irish Open’s hokey pokey position of recent years not exactly offering a compelling argument steeped in tradition. But it’s not like Pelley was innocent in all this. The proposed formation of a ‘Links Swing’ was never taken seriously and with the Scottish Open unwilling to budge on its prime real estate pre-Open date, and the Tour unwilling to make them, it’s a credit to the efforts of hosts Rory McIlroy and Paul McGinley that we’ve managed to attract the calibre of field that we have in the recent past.
Now with a WGC date to contend with, on top of the players’ unwillingness to play golf three weeks in a row in the lead up to the Open, all roads point to the Irish Open upping sticks in search of pastures new.
In all likelihood, that date will be September, and in the precise slot where a certain Open Champion, Shane Lowry predicted and hoped for earlier this month at Lahinch. The 32-year old seems to come to life around the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and sees the week prior to that event as the ideal position for Ireland’s National Open to sit.
“There is a great chance to move it the week before Wentworth, two great tournaments two weeks in a row,” Lowry said.
“September in Ireland tends to be okay as well, so I think Dubai Duty Free should put pressure on the Tour to give them the date they want.
“There are very few really big tournaments on the European Tour, and this is one of them, and I think they should be looked after as well as they can.”
For the European Tour’s sake, and for its credibility, Pelley needs to stand firm on this one. The fat cat cigar-puffing blazers of the PGA Tour ensured our July date’s demise but September could prove a bright new future if the European Tour backs it. Sponsors like Dubai Duty Free and Rolex aren’t exactly small players in this game of golfing chess and they won’t hang around if they get a hint of Pelley puckering up, rather than sticking up, for one of a diminishing few ‘proper’ European tour events up for discussion at golf’s negotiating table.
Next year’s schedule includes the Olympic Games (July 27-August 2) and the Ryder Cup (September 25-27) so sacrifices were always going to have to be made, while in fairness to KP, the purse strings of the PGA Tour were always going to extend that bit further. However, a negative could swiftly turn into a positive if Pelley and co get it right from here. A September date with two Rolex Series events back–to–back is an attractive proposition for any European player harbouring Ryder Cup ambitions and that in itself should prove enough to guarantee a stellar field.
Talk suggests that Mount Juliet is in pole position to stage next year’s renewal. The Kilkenny parkland hosted the WGC-American Express Championship in 2002 and 2004 and it’s widely known that Simon Alliss, Championship Director of the Irish Open, and Sinead El Sibai, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Dubai Duty Free paid a visit to the course on the Monday after Lahinch this year. Clarity across the board should be made public soon.
Whatever happens though, let’s hope the Irish Open, an event that had to be resurrected to reach competitive status on Tour having laid dormant for so long, and that presented itself in arguably its best ever light this summer in County Clare, won’t be undermined again for the sake of corporate greed.