Old Head an alternative as Mount Juliet seeks back to back Irish Opens

By Brian Keogh

The European Tour could take the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to the Old Head of Kinsale this year if it fails to come to an agreement with Mount Juliet to extend its one-year deal to two.

The €7 million Rolex Series event was scheduled to take place at the spectacular Co Kilkenny resort from May 28-31, but it was postponed on March 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanks to the postponement of September’s Ryder Cup, an Irish Open with a greatly reduced prize fund could still go ahead in Thomastown from September 24-27 but only if the government travel restrictions are eased and the European Tour agrees to give Mount Juliet a second bite of the cherry in 2021.

According to sources with knowledge of the negotiations, resort owners Tetrarch Capital would only be willing to host a low-key Irish Open in September if there were no hosting costs this year and they could also be guaranteed a full-field Rolex Series event with all the bells and whistles next summer.

Having not hosted the Irish Open since 1995, a two-year deal would give Mount Juliet more bang for its buck following the decimation of the tourism business this year.

It appears that Portstewart Golf Club, which was reportedly expected to host the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in 2021, is happy to step aside and wait until 2022 as it pushes this year's cancelled overseas bookings into next year.

If the European Tour is unable to secure Mount Juliet, the Irish Independent understands that the Old Head of Kinsale Golf Links in Co Cork is considered the ideal, behind-closed-doors Irish Open venue as its spectacular, 300-foot cliffs would make for dramatic television pictures.

However, it remains to be seen if international golfers will be allowed to travel freely to Ireland in September at all as the COVID-19 pandemic rages worldwide.

The postponement of the Ryder Cup has freed up the week after the US Open and given the European Tour a window of opportunity from September 24-27.

But while Open champion Shane Lowry insists he will come home to play if the government eases restrictions that currently require all overseas visitors to self-isolate for 14 days, a second wave could scupper hopes of tour golf here this year.

As things stand, Lowry, this year's Irish Open host Graeme McDowell and world No 1 Rory McIlroy would all be unable to play the week after the US Open due to the 14-day quarantine requirement.

"I would 100 per cent play a rescheduled Irish Open in the now vacant September Ryder Cup slot – if the government restrictions allow for it," Lowry wrote in his Paddy Power column. "If there is an Irish Open and I am allowed play, I will definitely play.

"The Irish government will have to judge whether public opinion will allow for international golfers arriving, playing and departing given how well the Irish public has done to contain the spread of the pandemic over the last few months.

Mount Juliet

"The US Open is due to end on the September 20, the week before a rescheduled Irish Open could be slotted in and I was planning to come home for a couple of weeks after that Major anyway if the quarantine restrictions allow for it.

"Obviously if players have to quarantine in the US first and then Ireland when they arrive, it's not going to be very practical for many. But if everything gets the green light, I'd love to be teeing off as the reigning Open Champion on home soil.

"I was so looking forward to going to the Irish Open at Mount Juliet as the reigning 'Open Champion', teeing off in front of a home crowd, so I'd still love to experience that if possible."

Visitors from countries with higher infections rates than Ireland, such as the UK and the USA, would be unlikely right now to make the Green List of countries the Irish government—one of the European Tour's Ryder Cup partners for 2027 at Adare Manor— plans to publish on July 20.

Anyone travelling to Ireland from a green list country will not have to restrict their movements, and European Tour players based in Europe would be arriving in Ireland on the back of three-week Iberian Swing featuring events in Spain and Portugal.

European Tour CEO Keith Pelley insisted when announcing the UK Swing in May that staging the Irish Open this year was a high priority for him and board member Paul McGinley is still hopeful.

McGinley told Independent.ie: "It would be fantastic to have an Irish Open this year and it would give us all something to look forward to after what has been a traumatic few months. 

"The weather in Ireland was sensational on the weekend when it should have been on, and that made it all the more painful to see it called off. We have played so many Irish Opens in May over the years, and I can't recall any that were played in decent weather, and they were horrific a lot of the time. 

"Let's hope we can get it back on. Keith Pelley is very committed to getting it still on the schedule, so fingers crossed. As we come out of this lockdown and things start to get eased, we have to hope this virus doesn't spike again.”

Simon Alliss, the Championship Director for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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