Paul McGinley hopes Lahinch will lure top players for 2019 Irish Open
Rory McIlroy to pass on the host’s baton after July’s Dubai Duty Free event at Ballyliffin
Paul McGinley at Lahinch Golf Club for the announcement that it is to host the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, with McGinley as the host. Photograph: Brian Arthur
As you’d somehow expect from someone whose Ryder Cup captaincy was deemed a template for all others, to the extent that the USA has sought to imitate his level of preparedness, Paul McGinley has already started to ensure that next year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open over the old course at Lahinch Golf Club will prove a tempting proposition to the world’s greatest players.
It is scheduled to take place on July 4th-7th 2019, just two weeks before the Open returns to Royal Portrush, and McGinley – assuming the role of tournament host from Rory McIlroy – has had initial discussions with the R&A so that the course set-up at Lahinch can pose a preparatory examination for those with their eyes on the Claret Jug.
“I don’t want to lean on Rory, in terms of doing any favours [to ask players] and then having to do favours back,” said McGinley, adding: “Lahinch is a strong enough course to stand on its own merit. I have already spoken to the R&A about getting green speeds, fairway widths and to copy those in terms of set-up. The terrain is not too dissimilar to Royal Portrush, certainly we can set up the golf course in a very similar vein . . . so, if anyone wants to come over [from the PGA Tour], aligning the course with the set-up at Royal Portrush is what I can bring to the table.”
Lahinch itself will bring a lot to the table: the links literally merges into the town, which should provide a festival atmosphere,while the golf course – which numbers Phil Mickelson as an honorary member – was originally designed by Old Tom Morris, upgraded by the famous architect Alister MacKenzie in 1927 and, more recently, modernised by Martin Hawtree in 1999.
Lahinch, everyone knows it is a great town with a festival atmosphere, it will look great on TV and do Ireland proud
A number of other links courses – among them Portmarnock Links and Co Sligo – were also in the running, and will likely do so at some point in the future, but McGinley’s preferred option was Lahinch, where he won a South of Ireland amateur title in 1991 before embarking on a hugely successful professional career.
“It was one of my favourites from day one, but it is more than just me who makes the decision. Dubai Duty Free has a big say, the European Tour has a big say, I have a voice but I don’t have the overall voice.
“For me it was important to have it on a links course because of the Open in 2019 in Portrush, also we needed I believe to separate away [from Portrush] in terms of the market and the crowd . . . the southwest was the logical place from that point of view. Lahinch, everyone knows it is a great town with a festival atmosphere, it will look great on TV and do Ireland proud. There is no doubt, all golf courses need a bit of wind and hopefully we will have bright and breezy conditions which will be ideal. It will be in great condition,” said McGinley.
The Irish Open has been greatly revived since McIlroy’s decision to take on the role of tournament ambassador and Dubai Duty Free coming on board as title sponsor. In recent years, the event has been staged at Royal County Down, The K Club and last year at Portstewart.
This year’s event – with a prize fund of $7 million – is part of the European Tour Rolex Series, and will take place at Ballyliffin in Co Donegal in July, when Jon Rahm defends his title. It will also mark the end of McIlroy’s role as tournament host before passing the baton over to McGinley and, going forward, to Graeme McDowell, Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke.
“We don’t want to steal anything away from Ballyliffin, at the same time we have to get involved in the planning, and to get decisions out there, so it is heads down and let Ballyliffin take centre stage,” added McGinley, who will have Des Smyth – a tournament ambassador – as an assistant in promoting the event.
Although there was an approach to the European Tour seeking a swap in the calendar next year with the Scottish Open, which occupies the date immediately ahead of the British Open, that was given short shrift, but there is feeling that its position two weeks ahead of the Major on the Causeway Coast could prove to be an even more appetising proposition for players to play competitively and then spend a week preparing on links courses around Ireland.
“The local community have really embraced it,” added McGinley. “When they made a presentation to the European Tour, they did a brilliant job. The whole community is getting involved, from county council to the gardaí to the club . . . we will work closely with them over the next 12 months. It will showcase Ireland and links golf in Ireland in a good light.”