Golf:

McIlroy to pass on the host’s ba­ton af­ter tour­na­ment at Bal­lylif­fin

The Irish Times - - Front Page - Golf Cor­re­spon­dent Philip Reid

Paul McGin­ley has started to en­sure that next year’s Ir­ish Open at Lahinch Golf Club will prove a tempt­ing propo­si­tion for the world’s great­est play­ers.

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 Bri­tish 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.”

Fes­ti­val at­mos­phere

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.

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.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAVID CAN­NON/GETTY IMAGES

The green on the 166-yard par three, eighth hole on the Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club. Plan­ning

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