Historic Irish Open loses sponsor

Ross Fisher

If you were to pick any European Tour event to be impervious to the credit crunch, the Irish Open would be a good bet. After all, the Irish are golf mad.

More than 80,000 spectators turned up to watch last year’s Irish Open, won by England’s Ross Fisher. Four years ago, Ireland staged a successful Ryder Cup at The K Club, the first of the biennial event against the U.S. to be held on Irish soil.

Irish papers continue to cover all aspects of the game – professional and amateur, men’s and women’s golf.

So the news that the Irish Open has lost its sponsorship comes as a surprise. Mobile telephone company 3 has pulled the sponsorship plug after two years of backing the national open. After investing more than 8 million euros (about U.S. $11 million) in the tournament, the company will not renew its sponsorship.

The company has made a strategic decision to drop golf and invest more heavily in the Irish national football team.

The Irish Open is one of the longest-running tournaments on the European circuit. First played in 1927, the tournament has been a fixture on the European Tour since 1975. 

Past winners include Christy O’Connor Jr., Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green, Sam Torrance, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington.

The news has dismayed Irish golfers. “It’s a huge disappointment that 3 has pulled out, having done so many great things with the event the last two years,” said U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland. “It’s imperative that we find a way to make the Irish Open happen next year. No event in Ireland would be a travesty, with the strength of Irish golf right now.

“The markets are tough right now, especially in Ireland, but all the Irish players will be fully behind the drive to make this event happen.”

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy echoed his countryman.

“With the major success seen in Ireland over the last few years, I hope someone will step in and continue one of the oldest and best events,” McIlroy said. “It would be a real shame as a player if we didn’t get the chance to play on home soil.”

The most likely scenario for 2011 is that the European Tour will step in to bail out the tournament, with help from the Irish tourism board. However, that will probably mean a reduction of the purse, which has been 3 million euros (U.S. $4.1 million), and perhaps loss of its prime date in July.

The bottom line is that this old event got lost in a crowded European Tour calendar. With newer events in the Far East offering appearance money to lure big stars, Ireland’s national open faces a tough battle for survival.

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