Solheim Cup hero Leona Maguire has backed calls to see the Ladies Irish Open return to home shores for the first time since 2012 in order to help inspire the next generation of boys and girls into golf here in Ireland.
The 26-year old returned to where it all began at PGA National Slieve Russell in Co. Cavan to triumphant scenes following her record breaking rookie appearance at last week’s Solheim. Gunning for glory with Team Europe, Maguire played all five matches, putting 4.5 points on the board as Catriona Matthew’s side won out 15-13 behind enemy lines in Toledo, Ohio.
Now home and in reflection mode, Maguire was asked over Zoom at a KPMG media day whether she would like to see the Solheim touch down on Irish shores off the back of her success. Maguire had other ideas:
“We did have it in 2011 – it’s ten years ago so I don’t know if we’d be able to have it again so soon,” she said. “But in the short term, I’d rather see an Irish Open back.
“That was an incredible boost to me as an amateur, getting to play with Suzann Pettersen at Killeen Castle and Portmarnock as a 15, 16-year old. The experience I gained playing in them was invaluable.
“I remember in Killeen Castle the crowds being five or six people deep and that was long before any 20×20 campaigns or anything like that. I think getting it back would be massive in inspiring a new generation of Irish golfers, both girls and boys. People got a glimpse of it last week on the telly with the Solheim Cup. There is an appetite there for it.”
And how could there not be? After Maguire’s performance last week at the Solheim, she has firmly announced herself as one of golf’s brightest stars, not just here in Ireland but anywhere in the world.
“She’s so young, but she is now one of Ireland’s greatest golfers,” said European Ryder Cup captain, Padraig Harrington. But if that is the case, then one of Ireland’s greatest golfers is playing the game without a national open to strut her stuff in. As Irish Times writer Philip Reid rightly pointed out, ‘we have Irish Open, Irish Challenge and Irish Legends for the men. It’s a bit lopsided’.
It’s more than a little lopsided – it’s a completely unfair reflection of where the game is at in this country. With Leona and Stephanie Meadow leading the way on the LPGA, and Olivia Mehaffey through to Stage Two of Q-School next month, never have there been so many role models for young girls and boys to aim at. The best ranked amateur in the world from an Irish point of view, male or female, is Lauren Walsh in tenth on WAGR while Kirkistown Castle’s Beth Coulter, who finished runner-up at this year’s Girls Amateur, looks another brilliant prospect.
The momentum behind women’s golf needs to be capitalised on. Far from a risky investment by a would-be sponsor, bringing the tournament back looks like a no-brainer. The event will be unequivocally backed by the people. As Leona points out, they turned out in their droves at Killeen Castle before any 20×20 campaign encouraged them to do so. The Irish people love their golf, and they don’t discriminate based on gender.
So, when will we see the Irish Open return? Surely if anyone’s in the know, it’s Leona Maguire.
“I have no idea,” she laughed. “There a lot of people higher up the food chain making those decisions than me!
“But we’ve got ample golf courses that would be willing to host – we’ve got some phenomenal venues here in Ireland but I suppose at the same time it needs the financial backing and the right people to get in the right room and chat together and hammer that out.
“Those decisions will be made a lot higher than me but hopefully they’re in the works now – I have no idea but weeks like last week can only help.”
It would’ve been cheeky to suggest that the function room at PGA National Slieve Russell – where Leona was sitting with financial powerhouse and long-time sponsor KPMG beaming on the TV in big, bright letters behind her back, alongside Modest! Golf Director Mark McDonnell whose company is all about backing inclusion in sport and hosts the World Invitational at Galgorm Castle already – would be the exact room needed to hammer something out. After all, if the Ladies Irish Open was set for an imminent return, what better venue than PGA National Slieve Russell, where Leona honed her craft long before she was famous, to get the ball rolling? So I suggested it:
“Yeah,” Maguire half-smiled, then shrugged, keeping her cards typically close to her chest. She didn’t have to elaborate. Something tells me the tournament’s return is closer than we think.