Fota Island expected to be confimed Irish Open venue
Cork club, which last staged the event in 2002, was purchased by Kang family for €21m
Colin Montgomerie on his way to victory in the 2001 Irish Open at Fota Island.
From Pinehurst number two in North Carolina to Fota Island in Cork, a distance of 3,580 miles! With an announcement imminent that the Co Cork venue is set to stage the Irish Open for the first time in 12 years, that’s the transatlantic hike that Ireland’s four modern Major champions – Rory McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke – will face in the days immediately following their US Open endeavours in June.
Although the PGA European Tour is staying mum on confirming the venue, which had a TBC attached to it when the tour released its 2014 schedule last November, it is believed that Fota Island – purchased by the China-based Kang family from Nama for €21 million last August – has been given a verbal commitment to stage the Irish Open on June 19th-22nd.
This year’s tournament has been shifted forward a week in the calendar, pitching it immediately after the season’s second Major.
With no sponsor – as yet – secured for the event, and Fáilte Ireland and the European Tour again providing the main financial backing, the willingness of the Kang family to pay a significant site fee to play host to the tournament is believed to have enabled it to get the nod ahead of Carton House, which hosted last year’s event won by England’s Paul Casey, and Mount Juliet, who were also under consideration.
It is expected that an official confirmation of Fota Island will take place within the next week.
Fota Island – which proved to be a superb venue when it staged back-to-back Irish Opens in 2001 and 2002, when Colin Montgomerie and Soren Hansen emerged as the respective champions – was acquired by the Kang Family Worldwide last year and immediately entered the behind-the-scenes contest to stage this year’s event. The European Tour is believed to be pursuing a possible principal sponsor for the championship, but the presence of the quartet of Irish Major champions will ensure a marquee presence.
To offer places
The tournament has also been chosen by the R&A, organisers of the British Open, as one of three – along with the French Open and the Scottish Open – on the European Tour to offer places for the Open at Hoyalke in July.
To secure one of those tickets to golf’s oldest Major, players not previously exempt must finish in the top 10 at the Irish Open.
The Irish Open has had a nomadic existence in recent years, moving from Killarney – which successfully staged back-to-back championships in 2010 and 2011 – to Royal Portrush in 2012 and Carton House in Co Kildare in 2013.
Its return to Northern Ireland in 2012 brought record crowds for a European Tour event – with a total of in excess of 130,000 attending over the four days of competition but the appetite for golf in the Cork region was evidenced on its last staging in Fota in 2002 when over 100,000 spectators attended the tournament.
The staging of the event just days after the US Open finishes at Pinehurst – where there is always the prospect of a Monday finish due to the USGA continuing to legislate for a full 18-hole play-off in the event of a tie at the end of the regulation 72-holes – is not ideal, but won’t unduly affect the quality of the field in the Irish Open, especially with the four Irish Major champions confirming they will support the national championship.