The Irish Open’s return to The K Club could be worth in excess of €50m

It may regain its former status as a Rolex event and co-sanctioned event on PGA Tour

The Horizon Irish Open will return to The K Club as part of a long-term sponsorship deal that could be worth in excess of €50 million over the six-year term of the agreement.

The DP World Tour formally announced the partnership and in doing so secured the tournament's future with a possibility that it may both regain its former status as a Rolex event and become a co-sanctioned event on the PGA Tour.

The K Club, which hosted the Irish Open for the first and only time in 2016, famously won by Rory McIlroy, will stage the tournament in 2023, 2025 and 2027.

It was also confirmed that the Kildare resort's second Arnold Palmer-designed course, Palmer South, will stage the Challenge Tour's Irish Challenge in the intervening years, beginning this July and again in 2024 and 2026.

Earlier this year Horizon Therapeutics, the global biotechnology company headquartered in Dublin, signed a six-year Irish Open title sponsorship deal in February, beginning with this year's event at Mount Juliet Estate from June 30th-July 3rd. There is a 77 per cent increase in the prize fund from €3.42 million in 2020 to €5.05 million this year.

Timothy P Walbert, chairman, president and chief executive of Horizon Therapeutics, when asked about the final support for the tournament, said: "As far as particular figures we are not disclosing that at this point."

Guy Kinnings, the DP World Tour's deputy chief executive, Ryder Cup director and chief commercial officer, was noncommittal when asked about the Horizon Irish Open regaining its former Rolex status and whether it might be co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

He said: “I think Timothy answered it beautifully and he’s exactly right when he said it is pretty clear that this is a close collaboration between the two Tours.

“This partnership came about because of the close working relationship we now have (between the Tours). I think the fact that this tournament was singled out by the PGA Tour in terms of their help and support in developing this opportunity just shows how much they and we think of the Horizon Irish Open. I think it has its own utterly unique style and that’s what is so appealing about it globally.

Kinnings referenced the increase in the Irish Open prize fund and stated that “it sets the tournament aside in a very high echelon. We will obviously look to review prize money levels every year, but our intention is to make the event grow.

"The fact that the tournament can be so impactful for the whole island of Ireland means we will be looking at opportunities to play in the North as well and we'll announce those when we're ready to."

The Irish Open tournament director, Simon Alliss, explained that they are currently in discussions with venues in Northern Ireland to stage the event in 2024 and 2026 but there was nothing concrete to report. "Portstewart is always an option, Royal County Down (too).

"We were looking at Lough Erne in the early days. Castlerock put their name in the mix a while back. So we will go through all the names and speak to Tourism Northern Ireland about where we are going but can I see us going back to Northern Ireland absolutely."

Pulling power

The pulling power of the JP McManus Pro-Am that takes place on the Monday and Tuesday of the week following the Irish Open might persuade some of the top Americans to arrive a little earlier. Alliss smiled: “Everyone is coming over and it’s like a dating event at the moment.

“It’s like trying to get the prom queen. We offer them as much as we can and try to make it as enticing as possible, but these guys will do what they want to do when they’re working out their schedule.”

This year’s tournament in Mount Juliet will once again form part of the British Open Qualifying Series, with the top three players not already exempt earning a place in the 150th edition of golf’s oldest Major that takes place two weeks later on the Old Course at St Andrews.

The Irish Challenge returned to the Challenge Tour back in 2015 and has been played every year since - barring 2020 due to the pandemic. The Ladies European Tour will return to Irish shores for the first time in 10 years when the Women's Irish Open takes place at Dromoland Castle in September.

Sport Ireland have put in €3.5 million in the last five stagings of the Irish Open in the Republic of Ireland, including €1 million apiece, last year and this year.

Dr Una May, chief executive of Sport Ireland, said: "It's an exciting time for this tournament and I look forward to working with the DP World Tour and all of the tournament hosts over the next few years to help bring this great event to new levels of success.

“I am delighted that Sport Ireland, through its sponsorship of the Horizon Irish Open, has been able to offer two invitations to emerging Irish golfers. This will provide players with the opportunity to play in a top class DP World Tour event on home soil, and help further their careers as professional golfers.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer