Major surgery pays off to save Killarney

Astonishing success of Irish golfers can be used to revive a game hit hard by economic downturn

The Tee Amigos will be the star turn at Killarney this week. Yet far from being a novelty act, Northern Ireland's three major-winners have a serious job in Co Kerry. The challenge of Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell is to re-establish the Irish Open as an international feature piece.

The financial downturn of the Celtic Tiger means the event first contested in 1927 has no headline sponsor and a prize fund slashed in half to €1.5 million (£1.32m). There are only three members of the world's top 50 in the field, but in Irish terms what a trio they happen to be. "Box office" is an accurate description.

"The ticket sales took a spike after Darren's win at the Open in Sunday," Ben Watson, the championship director, told The Independent on Sunday. "They went up by more than 20 per cent. And before the Darren effect we had the Rory effect, which mean they were healthy anyway."

Indeed, the organisers hope to better the 82,000 attendance of 2010, which would be some feat considering 3 Mobile's sponsorship withdrawallast November left them without a marketing budget. Until McIlroy's US Open glory "flicked a switch", they had hardly sold a ticket. At that stage, just to hold the event would have been an achievement, and without backing of ¤1.25m from the Irish Tourist Board, the Tour might not have gambled. It is a punt destined to pay out.

On Friday, the Stormont Government announced a financial commitment to staging a European Tour event, and if a consortium including JP McManus are still interested then the Irish Open is heading for Royal Portrush. But there could even be two Tour events on the island.

Whatever, it would be daft if Ulster, "the golfing capital of the world" as McIlroy so joyously referred to it in the wake of Clarke's triumph, did not have its own stop on the calendar. And, of course, it would give Clarke's home links a further opportunity to prove its merits as a venue, with the Royal & Ancient promising to look into the feasibility of Portrushhosting an Open.

As ever, Padraig Harrington talks a lot of sense on the matter. As the Golf Union of Ireland oversee the game on both sides of the border, Harrington can claim to have startedthe whole ball rolling. Some 240 majors separated Harrington'sbreakthrough in Carnoustie in 2007 from Fred Daly's Open in 1947.But now the Irish tally amounts to six majors from the past 17 – with four different winners.

Little wonder that Harrington suggests these times are "a one-offfor Irish golf".

"Maybe it will be repeated, but you cannot imagine Ireland ever again having so many players with so many majors between them over such a short period of time," he said. "I don't know if this is the peak but it's a time that will be marked in history for Irish golf, and I think Killarney will draw incredible crowds.

"But going forward, the event still needs building, no doubt about it. The good news is that the likes of Rory, Graeme, Darren and myself are bringing more world ranking points, and that will attract more players."

The three-time major-winner is simply relieved he has a national championship to attend. "It has been a very tough time for the Irish Open. Losing that sponsor in these economic times has been difficult and the Tour, and Tourism Ireland should be applauded.

"We're hoping this is an in-between year and that new sponsors will enhance it on the international stage. It does need enhancing if it is to reach the heights of 1980, when it was one of the Tour's biggest events."

As a qualified accountant, Harrington understands the necessity to cash in while those irons are hot. Golfing tourism brings in €110m (£97m) a year to the Irish economy, but it is in decline. Meanwhile, a report last year warned of a 10 per cent drop in members at the 400-plus clubs, with juniorsections inevitably suffering. Goldenages don't guarantee a golden legacy,as shown by the example of Welsh rugby in the Seventies.

But that is a question for the far-away future. For now the glory is assured; as, says Harrington, it will be for the next generation. "They're talking in Ireland about 'the best juniors we've ever had'," he said. "I go, 'Hang about, look what's just come through'. They say, 'No, now we've got really good kids'."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities