McIlroy’s powers of persuasion help stars align for Irish Open

The event has got its groove back thanks largely to the efforts of the world’s No 1

Ernie Els: became interested in playing in the Irish Open having spoken to Rory McIlroy in the Middle East. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Presseye/Inpho

As any advertiser will attest there is nothing like 'restricted' or 'limited supply' to get a potential audience's attention. If you create a hint of panic the chances are the conservative golfer will book early to avoid disappointment. The Irish Open at Royal County Down is indeed making history, it has been a sell out for a number of weeks now. Due to the nature of the course, it cannot accommodate a vast crowd.

This is one factor that has recreated some of the old glory days of the waning Irish Open; there is a huge sense of occasion here in County Down.

There is another factor that is even more important, the Irish Open is fortunate enough to have the world’s best golfer behind the event.

That is something that even the worst marketer in the world would find hard not to exploit. Rory McIlroy has undoubtedly made the current Irish Open the prestigious event that, judging by the practice rounds, it already seems to be.


The Irish Open would appear to be a landmark event in modern golf whereby the goodwill and friendship of a superstar is enough to make or break the tournament without a hint of a financial lure. I can't imagine how Rory broached the subject with Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood and, until he pulled out for family reasons, Patrick Reed.

Fantastic links

‘Ehh, lads … our National Open is flagging and really in need of a boost, would you mind sacrificing some of your already precious free time and come over to Northern Ireland for a week of hopefully acceptable weather on a fantastic links course . . . and uumh, there’s no money either. We’ll put you up in the Slieve Donard and get you into the select Van Morrison performance and do all we can to ensure you really enjoy my homeland. But things are still quite tight over this side of the Atlantic, so there is no spare change. What do you say?’

Surprisingly they said yes, in the most unusual set up for superstars in the modern era. For a well-seasoned caddie who understands, to a degree, the workings of the professional game , my faith has been restored in humanity on tour.

I am genuinely heartened by the field that Rory has assembled in Newcastle this week and the air of quality he has created around the event, much of that coming from the fact that they are playing on such a good golf course.

Back in the 70s the established sponsor of the prestigious Irish Open, Carrolls, set a precedent by bringing over the big stars of the era like Ben Crenshaw and Hubert Green to add some exotic American flair to the links land of Portmarnock. Both of them obliged by winning the Irish Open in 1976 and 1977 respectively.

Naturally there was a sweetener to get them across the pond in a less mobile era between the US and European Tours. Gradually appearance money became the norm. With the growth of the global game and the proliferation of tournaments, the better players were increasingly squeezed for time . They had too many events to play in and sponsors needed to ensure that they got their star players at their tournament. Up front money took care of that and in many cases still does.

There was even a golden era of appearance fees in the 90s where management groups got to hawk their star player in a package deal alongside someone that only the golf anorak would recognise. Sponsors grew wise to this tactic after a couple of years of being fleeced by paying for mongrels from the same kennel as the much sought after pure-bred. It couldn’t last.

If I was sponsoring a golf event t I would try to pay for the biggest crowd puller to compete. But the model for the Irish Open with its limited budget indicates that the wheel has almost turned full circle. These superstars are now doing each other favours with quid pro quo arrangements such as we are seeing this week.

My player Ernie Els , who is always tempted by the challenge of a links course, became interested when he talked to Rory earlier in the year in the Middle- East. He had played County Down back in 1998 on a whirlwind links trip around Ireland with his father and remembered it to be probably his favourite of all the courses he played. He brought his Dad back this week and played with him in the pro-am yesterday.

Foundation days

The trade-off for Rory getting Ernie to play this week is that he has got to reciprocate and play the South African Open. Sergio and Rickie have also traded off with Rory and he is going to have to compete in one of their Foundation days. This is not an easy commitment for the best golfer in the world to make. With time at a premium for these top performers it really is commendable that they would be so magnanimous in supporting their national Open and Foundations.

The Irish Open looks like it has got its groove back. With a top quality course and venue coupled with the strongest field we have had in Ireland since the Ryder Cup in 2006, Rory McIlroy is making history with a new departure in boosting his national Open not only by his presence as top golfer but also his powers of persuasion for an altruistic objective.