Royal County Down to host 2015 Irish Open
Nick Faldo-designed course at Lough Erne resort in Fermanagh the chosen venue in 2017
A view of the par four 3rd hole and the rest of the links towards the town of Newcastle and the Mourne Mountains at Royal County Down. Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images
The great mountain that is Slieve Donard was invisible to the naked eye, shrouded in mist as if it were hiding a secret. But there were no surreptitious revelations yesterday; just confirmation that the rumour mill was right after all, and that next year’s Irish Open would return to the famed links at Royal County Down – consistently ranked among the world’s great courses – with an earlier, end-of-May slot in the golfing calendar.
Most likely, it will – just as it was at Royal Portrush in 2012 – be an all-ticket affair. However, fears that the crowds would be limited to slightly above the 10,000 mark each day, as happened when the Walker Cup was staged on the links in 2007, were allayed. Instead, the ceiling is likely to be placed at around 20,000 spectators a day with about a quarter of those availing of grandstand seating which will be strategically placed.
Antonia Beggs, the championship director of the Irish Open, said: “Any venue has different challenges. The specific challenge to Royal County Down is the one people have always raised. How do you get the crowds around the golf course? I have been here three times now and spent hours walking it with my crowd safety consultant team, marshals etc, looking at how many we can get around it . . . . and I was pleasantly surprised.
“I walked around with some of the committee members who were understandably anxious. We walked around for four hours, and I got a big grilling afterwards. ‘Are you going to come in with bulldozers?’ But I can honestly say I don’t think we have to do anything, apart from probably remove a bit of gorse (at) 14 and 15.”
In fact, as Beggs put it, the “challenge is to make sure the staging lives up to the beauty of the golf course.”
On that point, there can be no argument. The Irish Open will be returning to one of the truly great links courses and, in an indication of the Northern Ireland executive’s support to play host to such a big event on the PGA European Tour, it was also confirmed yesterday that the Nick Faldo-designed course at Lough Erne resort in Co Fermanagh will play host to the tournament in 2017.
This year’s Irish Open will take place at Fota Island in Cork on June 19th-22nd (with the purse set at €2 million) but George O’Grady – the European Tour’s chief executive – indicated that the Trump International Links at Doonbeg, recently purchased by billionaire Donald Trump, could emerge as a venue in the foreseeable future.
While indicating that Fota Island was “running favourite” again for 2016, O’Grady added “we are in a changing world slightly. Donald Trump has bought Doonbeg and we are in quite close contract with him and he has a habit of delivering very good golf courses. It’s a good golf course anyway, Doonbeg, but with the investment he’s putting in, we’ll see how that goes. . . . But by 2016, who knows?”
The North’s top golfers gave their unconditioned backing to the announcement that Royal County Down would play host to the Irish Open for the first time in 67 years.
That the tournament follows hot on the heels of next year’s BMW PGA championship at Wentworth should also be a help. In a message to those gathered yesterday in the clubhouse at Royal County Down, two-time Major champion McIlroy promised that it would be “a week to remember” while 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell talked of the “world class” course. Already, it would seem to have a lot to live up to.