Harrington or McGinley – who will be Irish Open host?

Mount Juliet the venue for Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in 2020 – now to find a host

Spain’s Jon Rahm with Paul McGinley at the 2019 Irish Open at Lahinch Golf Club in Co Clare. Will McGinley step in for back-to-back hosting duties? Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Will Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington add the role of tournament host at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to his 2020 workload? Or will Paul McGinley – who fulfilled the role so well at Lahinch this year when the tournament was a sell-out – step in for back-to-back hosting duties?

Although Mount Juliet, the Jack Nicklaus-designed signature course outside Thomastown in Co Kilkenny, has been confirmed as the venue for the tournament on May 28th-31st, 2020, a choice has yet to be made on who will act as tournament host. A decision on the host is expected inside the next fortnight, with a European Tour official confirming that the policy will be continued.

Rory McIlroy acted as tournament host for four successive years, from 2015-2018, and was very much responsible for the tournament’s revival in tandem with DDF coming on board as title sponsors. Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke have also committed to future hosting duties, but are likely to wait until the tournament is again played in the North.

Next year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will remain as part of the Rolex Series of elite events on the European Tour, with the switch from a July date to May meaning it will be the second of eight tournaments in that megabucks series. The purse for the event is set to remain at $7 million (€6.3m).

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Colm McLoughlin, the executive vice-chairman and chief executive of Dubai Duty Free, said: “We are pleased with the growth of the tournament since Dubai Duty Free became involved in 2015, and the fact that it is now part of the Rolex Series with a prize fund of $7 million.

“We also agree with the strategy which both the European Tour and the previous hosts Rory McIlroy and Paul McGinley have employed of moving the tournament around the island of Ireland to include North and South, links and parkland, [which] has been very successful.”

Links schedule

The return to a parkland course brings an end to the so-called “links swing” on the PGA European Tour which has proven to be a short-lived initiative of just three years.

In that period the Irish Open has been part of a three-week links schedule along with the Scottish Open and the British Open on the European Tour, but that was thrown out of kilter for 2020 after the PGA Tour decided to bring forward the WGC-St Jude tournament (due to complications with scheduling in an Olympic year), which would have clashed directly with the Irish Open’s July date of recent years.

In avoiding a clash with that WGC tournament stateside, the decision was taken to move the Irish Open forward to a May time slot in the calendar. Mount Juliet threw its hat into the ring at an early stage, and 25 years on from Sam Torrance lifting the trophy at the Thomastown estate it will again welcome a top class field where Jon Rahm will defend his title.

McIlroy, who missed this year's tournament at Lahinch as part of his scheduling ahead of the 148th British Open at Royal Portrush, a decision which backfired when he missed the cut on the Causeway Coast, has already committed to playing next year, while Claret Jug holder Shane Lowry will also be competing.

Quality field

The move to an earlier May date to avoid conflict with the WGC in Memphis could actually work well in attracting a quality field as the Irish Open now comes two weeks after the US PGA at Harding Park in San Francisco and three weeks before the US Open at Winged Foot in New York.

The Irish Open’s return to a parkland course – for the first time since 2016 when McIlroy won at The K Club – also signals a change in policy away from the links-only approach of the past three years which, nevertheless, gave Portstewart, Ballyliffin and Lahinch in turn the opportunity to showcase their seaside courses.

Damien Gaffney, director of Tetrarch which owns Mount Juliet estate, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be returning after a gap of 25 years. We made a commitment to the staff and to the members when we bought Mount Juliet that we would do our best to bring the tournament back. We’ve worked very closely with the European Tour in recent months, and we’re thrilled to be finally announced as hosts.”