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
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Life and Style
fashion

News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news

Video: It is the type of thing no parent wants to hear

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

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game