The will it or won’t it question has finally been answered in relation to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open after The European Tour today announced the event will be played in Northern Ireland at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, from September 24-27.
It will be the first time the County Antrim venue has hosted the island of Ireland’s national Open with the event, as predicted by many, moving into the date vacated by the rescheduling of The 2020 Ryder Cup to 2021.
The 2020 Ryder Cup would have been a celebration of Irish golf with three-time Major Champion Padraig Harrington captaining Europe in the contest at Whistling Straits – the third European Captain from the island of Ireland in the past four contests. While that will now happen next September, the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm this September will mark a new chapter in the tournament’s history.
Originally scheduled to take place at Mount Juliet Estate in County Kilkenny from May 28-31, the event was postponed on March 30 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. With quarantine restrictions for travellers into the Republic of Ireland ongoing and the ban on mass gatherings still in place, the European Tour has now made the decision to move the tournament to Northern Ireland where it will be subject to similar guidelines to the current ‘UK Swing’ events, including being played behind closed doors. Planning remains on-going for the tournament to return to Mount Juliet in 2021 providing all health guidelines in place at that time can be met.
Following the changes to the date and the venue, allied to the overall disruption to the schedule, the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will have a prize fund of €1.25 million and therefore will not be part of the Rolex Series. The European Tour will announce full plans for the Rolex Series in due course.
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will, however, continue to drive Ireland’s status as a future Ryder Cup host country, the synergy even stronger given the fact that now, the centenary of The Ryder Cup and the centenary of the Irish Open both fall in 2027.
Keith Pelley, European Tour Chief Executive, said: “The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is an integral part of the European Tour’s schedule and despite the obvious challenges of staging any event in the current circumstances, we felt it was important to continue with the tournament providing we could do so safely.
“We did that, first and foremost with the support of Colm McLoughlin and everyone involved with our title sponsor Dubai Duty Free who once again showed commitment and understanding of the current global situation, and proved what a wonderful partner of the European Tour they are. We also did it with the support of the Northern Ireland Executive who deserve our sincere thanks.
“With the ongoing restrictions in the Republic of Ireland, we opted to move the tournament to Northern Ireland and are extremely grateful to Gary Henry and everyone at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort for stepping up to host us.
“I also want to thank Damien Gaffney and everyone at Mount Juliet, our original venue. Everyone at the Kilkenny course was ready to host the tournament this year until circumstances outside their control made that an impossibility. Hopefully, things will be different next year to allow us to return.”
Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, said: “We have been working closely with the European Tour over the past several months to find a way of staging the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this year. The priority of course has been to stage an event that strictly follows all government protocols in light of Covid-19 and to ensure the safety of players and all those involved in the event.
“We are pleased that the Galgorm Castle Golf Club in County Antrim has been selected as a suitable venue, with the Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort as the official accommodation. Without a doubt, the tournament will be different this year but we think that the players and fans are going to enjoy this return to world-class golf on the Island of Ireland.”
Diane Dodds, Economy Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, said: “It is wonderful to see top class golf return to Northern Ireland. After the success of the Open Championship at Royal Portrush last year and of recent Irish Opens in Portstewart, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland is proving once again that it is made for golf.
“I want to thank the European Tour and Tourism NI for its work in bringing this prestigious event to Northern Ireland and to Galgorm for stepping in to host it. This will be another opportunity to showcase to the world how Northern Ireland and international golf work well together. I know it will be a huge success.”
Gary Henry, Managing Director Galgorm Castle, said: ““We are delighted to be the host venue for the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. This outstanding tournament is steeped in history and we look forward to welcoming some of the best players in the world to Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort.
“To host the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is an historic moment and wonderful opportunity to showcase the world-class facilities at Galgorm and demonstrates that Northern Ireland is open for business. The Northern Ireland Open, supported by The R&A on the European Challenge Tour will also be played at Galgorm at the start of September and so the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be another welcome boost to the local economy.”
Damien Gaffney, Director of Tetrarch Capital, said: “Naturally everyone at Mount Juliet Estate is disappointed we cannot host the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this year but we totally understand and appreciate the reasons why. We will continue to work with the European Tour and put our energies into staging the event here next year.”
Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort has hosted the Northern Ireland Open on the European Challenge Tour since 2013, including last year’s innovative tournament – the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men|Women presented by Modest! Golf Management which featured both a men’s and women’s competition.
Despite hosting the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open from September 24-27, the County Antrim venue will continue its involvement with the Challenge Tour by also hosting the Northern Ireland Open hosted by The R&A from September 3-6.
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort is the fourth time the tournament has been played in Northern Ireland since 2012 when Royal Portrush became the first course north of the Irish border to host the tournament since 1953.
Welshman Jamie Donaldson claimed his maiden European Tour title on that occasion before the event returned to Northern Ireland in 2015, when Dane Søren Kjeldsen won at Royal County Down, and in 2017 when Spain’s Jon Rahm triumphed at Portstewart Golf Club, the first of his two Irish Open victories to date.