A charity pro-am in rural Ireland is threatening to undermine one of the most prestigious events on the European Tour. Last week, it was announced that the world No 1 Tiger Woods and many other leading players would be teeing up in the J P McManus Invitational Pro-Am at Limerick Golf Club on 10-11 July, the day before a major Tour tournament in Scotland.
No appearance money is being paid to the 44 star performers even though the three amateurs accompanying each professional will have to stump up Ir£40,000 between them.
However, it seems inevitable that the field for the £1.1m Standard Life Loch Lomond tournament from 12-15 July will be weakened by the timing of the monster in Munster.
The entry list for Loch Lomond - seen by the golfing public and BBC Television as the curtain-raiser for the Open at St Andrews the following week - includes the title holder, Colin Montgomerie, the double US Open champion Ernie Els and New Zealand's Michael Campbell.
A spokesman for Limerick Golf Club said yesterday, though, that all three would be playing in the pro-am, raising the possibility that they would either forego a practice round at Loch Lomond - unheard of among modern tournament professionals - or withdraw.
Standard Life, in their third year of sponsorship, have been told that McManus, a multi-millionaire businessman, has chartered a plane to fly players at 3pm on 11 July from Shannon to Glasgow after their pro-am rounds. However, a company spokeswoman, Fiona McMorran, said: "It's unlikely they will get to Loch Lomond before 5pm at the absolute earliest and by then the course will probably be closed for last-minute preparations. It's fair to say that we're concerned this pro-am will have an adverseeffect on our tournament."
All of which is a far cry from the optimism expressed a few weeks ago by the championship committee chairman, Graham Simmers, after announcing that the American left-hander Phil Mickelson would play at Loch Lomond. "The stature of the tournament continues to grow, and we look forward to further announcements about exciting new additions to our outstanding field," he said.
Alas, it now seems that Mickelson, a friend of Loch Lomond's American owner Lyle Anderson, will be part of one of the season's weaker European fields. In addition to Woods, the American contingent in Limerick also includes David Duval, the world No 2, Mark O'Meara and Tom Lehman, winner of the Loch Lomond title in 1997. The Australians Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby are also committed along with Ireland's two top players - Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington.
Woods, Duval and O'Meara have a link to McManus through their association with the billionaire British financier Joe Lewis at the exclusive Isleworth community in Florida where they have homes. Lewis, in turn, has close links with McManus, and provided the Americans with accommodation at the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews and helicopter transport to the course for last year's Open at Carnoustie.
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