Is holding an Irish Open this year really worth it?

Mark McGowan

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Last week, golf’s worst kept secret was finally revealed. The Ryder Cup was officially being postponed until 2021.

The decision was welcomed in all corners, but before the dust had even settled, the Irish Open was being touted as a potential replacement on the international calendar.

Originally scheduled for May 28 this year, the global Covid-19 pandemic threw worldwide schedules into disarray and it seemed as though the island’s premier international sporting event would be axed completely.

The European Tour’s revised schedule incorporates up to and including the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth from October 15-18, with any potential rescheduling of the Irish Open looking at late October at the earliest.

The Ryder Cup void now frees up September 24-27, but there is just one problem. Do we actually want it?

The week prior is the US Open at Winged Foot, with three of the preceding four weeks taken up by the FedEx Cup series. At present, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry, Rory McIlroy and amateur champion James Sugrue are in the field for Winged Foot, and with ten places up for grabs in the new United Kingdom Swing, the Irish contingent in New York could yet grow.

With American Covid-19 cases continuing to rise at astounding rates, and the Irish government coming under considerable public pressure to curtail US tourism, who knows whether our brightest stars would even be permitted to travel and take part in an Irish Open staged four days after the US Open’s conclusion.

Through national pride and a certain sense of obligation – and if regulations allow, of course – I’m sure the Irish players would make the trip. Shane Lowry confirmed as much a few days ago in his Paddy Power column, but “if” was very prevalent among his words. Even with a significantly reduced prize fund, I’d expect the players to compete for their national open, but the timing couldn’t be much worse and they may be asked to jump through several hoops to do so.

But there’s virtually no chance that any of the other leading Europeans will come. None who play at Winged Foot anyway.

What we’d likely see is a mostly Challenge Tour field with a few major winning outliers and played in front of empty galleries.

And if that’s what we want, then so be it.

But it’s not what Mount Juliet wants. At least not unless they are granted another bite at the cherry in 2021. And who could blame them? The enormity of the undertaking is vastly reduced with no spectators, but this is more than outweighed by the loss of revenue from ticket sales, merchandising and local tourism. Not to mention the fact that a much weaker field results in vastly diminished global publicity.

Moving the event to Old Head, should Mount Juliet and the European Tour fail to come to agreement, would certainly provide better scenery for television, but would of course be subject to the same capricious international variables.

Is it worth weeks of negotiation and planning when at any minute the rug could be pulled from underneath the entire venture? Is it worth having an Irish Open that may not even feature the best home-grown players our island has to offer?

If the week after the US Open is the only option available, then I say it’s not worth the risk.

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