Approximately 24,000 spectators turned out for the return of the KPMG Women’s Irish Open as the Ladies European Tour event came back to the schedule for the first time in a decade.
10,000 piled through the gates to see the final round and they were treated to a Leona Maguire charge on Sunday as she threatened to become the first Irish winner of the event.
Anticipation was rife and although Leona was always playing catch up after a Friday 75 and a pair of opening bogeys on Sunday, the scenes that unfolded were worth waiting ten years for and have definitely set a benchmark for this event.
It had a Major championship feel and Maguire and co acknowledged that.
“There have been so many people out to watch. It’s a home open, you don’t get to experience it that often – I haven’t in ten years,” said Maguire after her Saturday 65.. “That shows how important it is to have it back on the schedule. We were walking up the 9th and chatting about it, the girls were saying it was as close to a major championship as they had ever seen. Irish people are the best fans in the world.”
On Saturday Maguire drained a seven-footer for an eagle on the par-5 16th after a simply stunning shot to access a tight back right pin. The roar that followed when the ball disappeared was akin to any men’s Irish Open roar as the crowd began to believe she could drag herself back into this – which she did by moving to within two after 54 holes.
We all know the Tiger roar and the Rory roar but now we have the Leona roar and it’s a good one, with players on other holes stopping to listen as birdie cheers echoed around Dromoland. The decibel level was so high that the cheer for her closing birdie on 18 on Saturday startled the leading groups on the adjacent tenth.
A huge collection of fans gathered around the media area and I’m sure those who tuned in to RTE Radio One that evening would have heard the raucous applause at the end of her chat with Greg Allen.
As an event, Sunday was a slow burner. There was a nervous tension around Dromoland early on as crowds began to funnel in to be on-site in time for Maguire’s 11.20 tee time.
A loud cheer greeted her on the opening tee, a sign of things to come!
Cheers and roars of encouragement and anticipation turned to murmurs of discontent as Maguire flattered to deceive for the first six holes. A birdie on 7 warmed the galleries but birdies on 10, 13 and 14 catapulted her back into the mix creating a carnival atmosphere.
The images of the 2018 Tour Championship where Tiger went on to win at East Lake came to mind on the 15th tee in Dromoland.
For those who are unfamiliar with the driveable par-4, there is a steep hill from tee to green with a walkway to the right of the hole for fans to access the green and 16th tee.
Once again there was a colossal roar, surely heard around the course, as she made her way from the 14th green to the 15th tee.
What transpired was like a mini version of East Lake or like something from the Lion King as fans scurried and harried to get a good viewing position with Maguire the pied piper submerged in the madness – she was there somewhere.
Cavan jerseys, Cavan flags and Irish flags were dotted around the place as fans tried to get a piece of the superstar – but she wasn’t having it, tunnel visioned as ever, focused on the task at hand but inside she was undoubtedly having the time of her life!
“I’ve had ball this week the crowds have been cheering me on whether I have been playing good or bad. We met a man out walking his dog after the second round and he said: ‘You have no idea the amount of people out rooting for you’ and I felt that on Saturday.
“Sunday was fantastic, someone just said there was 10,000 through the gates which is phenomenal support for the first Irish Open back in 10 years and hopefully it will only continue to build and to get bigger and better in years to come.
“It’s an Irish Open, you want to give it your very best. The crowds this week have been phenomenal, they were cheering me on every step of the way whether I was making birdies or pars or bogeys, they gave me some energy. I just wanted to play as best as I could and give them something to shout about.
“I think everybody can be incredibly proud of the show that was put on this week. The girls have enjoyed it, the fans have enjoyed it. Dromoland has put on a great show, KPMG has backed it. Hopefully this is the start of a bigger and better Irish Open.”
Bigger and better Irish Open indeed. That seems the only direction for this fantastic event which is set to return to Dromoland next term as part of a three-year deal with a Summer date on the agenda.
This event was such a success even though it was rather shoehorned into the schedule and a summer date will undoubtedly elevate it.
I played the pro-am on Wednesday with Finnish veteran Ursula Wikstrom who was beaten in the resulting playoff. She is old enough to remember the days of Portmarnock and Killeen Castle and she asked me why was this not on a links?
Being a golf journalist who has his own views on this debate with the men’s Irish Open I said, ‘Don’t go there.’
While I think the men’s Irish Open lacks something without a links in its current slot on the schedule I don’t think parkland will hamper the women at all. In fact I think it will enhance it.
This event has unlimited potential and it can eclipse the men once it’s managed well into the future. Somewhere in the summer slot around the Evian Championship or British Open – which isn’t always on a links – would surely encourage some of the European stars from the LPGA to venture over and maybe even some of the Americans who have previously made the journey to Galgorm Castle for the ISPS Handa World Invitational.
Last week set the tone for what should be a standout event on the LET schedule. We have the fans, we have the players – Meadow and Mehaffey are still to join while our top amateurs in the US would also be available to play in a summer date and we most definitely have the venue in Dromoland Castle to host the elite of women’s golf, as well as their adoring fans.
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