The return of the KPMG Women’s Irish Open to the Ladies European Tour ticked so many of the right boxes in its staging at Dromoland Castle, Co Clare: an immaculate, pristine course set-up; large crowds – “A lot of girls said it felt like a Major, by far the biggest crowds they have seen, this is not normal for an LET event,” said Leona Maguire – and a competitive tournament that brought the drama to extra time, before Klára Spliková won in a playoff.
Yet, as Maguire also observed, there is the potential for it to become an even bigger event, which would require a number of things to happen but primarily a move to a more conducive summer date in the scheduling so that a greater number of LPGA Tour players might be tempted to include it as part of a European swing.
“I think if it’s in a summer date we would get a few more LPGA Tour players like we did before when it was in Killeen Castle if it’s on that European stretch, potentially around the Evian dates or British Open dates, ideally,” said Maguire.
The aggregate crowds for this edition of the Irish Open again confirmed an appetite for women’s professional golf here: some 24,000 spectators, including 10,000 for Sunday’s final round, passed through the gates.
That figure remains behind the record 35,000 who attended the 2010 tournament at Killeen Castle but, for a tournament coming from a standing start and only retrofitted into the LET schedule, it represented a sizeable number with the potential to grow further going forward, especially with the ever-greater public appreciation of Maguire, a global star nowadays, who is very much the face for the women’s game in Ireland.
Maguire was a teenage amateur when she played at Killeen Castle but will remember that no fewer than 17 players with Solheim Cup experience played in that tournament, won by Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson. It is that kind of model to which the re-birthed Women’s Irish Open can reasonably aspire to again, especially if it can be slotted into a schedule around the time of the Evian, Scottish Open, AIG British Open and the ISPS Handa World Invitational.
Maguire would not be alone in shouldering home expectations with such a move, as Stephanie Meadow – who played in the clashing Arkansas event on the LPGA Tour in her bid to strengthen her LPGA Tour order of merit standing – would also likely be able to fit it into her scheduling, while there is the prospect of Lauren Walsh, in her last year at Wake Forest in the USA, having moved into the professional ranks by then.
The timing of this year’s tournament also deprived some of Ireland’s best amateurs, among them Walsh, Annabel Wilson and Beth Coulter, all in college stateside from playing.
As Maguire observed: “A lot of them missed out, which was a shame. Some of the younger girls got to play which was a great experience for them but there are a few of the college girls who haven’t played in a pro event and it would be a great experience for them. It’s in everybody’s interest that it’s a slightly better date but you can’t fault this [event], it has been a tremendous success.”
Certainly the consensus from all those who made this Women’s Irish Open happen was hugely supportive of building on its success going forward. From title sponsors KPMG, from Sport Ireland and from host venue Dromoland Castle.
Maguire played a big part in the brand awareness of a tournament which came late to the schedule and her tied-fourth finish, just one shot outside of the play-off, added to the whole occasion.
After a four-week stint which included back-to-back weeks in Ohio and another in Oregon before returning home to Ireland, the world number 18 will hit the road again for an upcoming stretch aimed at finishing as high up the LPGA Tour order of merit as possible. She is also eyeing the season-ending big money CME Group Tour Championship.
Maguire’s schedule going forward features next week’s Mediheal Championship in California, the BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea (she has opted to skip the following week’s tournament in Japan), and then the final two tournaments in Florida in November, the Pelican Championship and the $7 million Tour Championship, which is a limited field event.
“It’s almost like a mini major for us,” said Maguire of the Tour Championship finale, “with the way the purse has gone. So, I’ll get ready for Pelican and CME and finish the year off as strong as I can. It has been a great year either way, but it would be nice to finish it with a good bonus in Florida.”