The once ailing tournament has found new life, for sure. From a point where the total purse in 2011 amounted to €1.5 million, next year's Irish Open at The K Club on
May 19th to 22nd – with Dubai Duty Free extending its title sponsorship to 2018 and Rory McIlroy also strengthening his commitment as tournament host for a further three years – will have a €4 million pot. This represents a 166 per cent increase in prize money in just five years.
The sheer scale of the prizefund may be what grabs most attention, re-establishing the tournament in pure monetary terms among the best on the PGA European Tour schedule, but the star appeal of McIlroy as host and Dubai Duty Free as a blue chip title sponsor, is a win-win combination that has reaped immediate dividends in the tournament’s rebirth.
In describing the Irish Open as "one of the most prestigious and most eagerly anticipated" on the circuit, with what he termed "two powerful global brands [supporting]," Keith Pelley, the new chief executive of the European Tour, hit the nail on the head.
Outside of the Majors and the WGCs, only the BMW PGA Championship – the tour’s flagship – and the Alfred Dunhill Links and the British Masters have bigger prizefunds among the so-called regular tournaments.
“Rory is a loyal supporter of the European Tour and the Irish Open, and he is one of the game’s most recognisable superstars, who helped attract a world-class field to this year’s tournament. Naturally we are thrilled he will continue as host of the Irish Open for another three years,” said Pelley.
Next year’s tournament at The K Club – 10 years on from the resort hosting the Ryder Cup – will occupy a May date, in the week before the BMW PGA Championship.
In effect, it is a turnaround from this year when the Irish Open at Royal County Down was played the week following Wentworth. McIlroy's influence will again ensure a stellar international field, with Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods among those likely to get a tap on the shoulder from the Ulsterman, who called in favours from Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia for this year's championship at Royal County Down.
McIlroy, who is due to return to tournament play at the Turkish Airlines Open in just over a fortnight, said: “The Irish Open has always meant so much to me, so I am really excited to announce my commitment to host the tournament, on behalf of the Rory Foundation, for the next three years,” said McIlroy, offering his thanks to the title sponsors for “supporting my vision” to develop it into one of the leading tournaments on the schedule.
The fact that the Rory Foundation will continue to host the event was central to our decision moving forward,” admitted Colm McLoughlin, executive vice-chairman of Dubai Duty Free.
The K Club will be playing host to the Irish Open for the first time, although the resort – which has recently undergone an expansion – staged the European Open for 13 successive years from 1995 to 2007 and, of course, was the venue for the 2006 Ryder Cup.