European Tour Championship Director Simon Allis is confident Lahinch’s turn at hosting the Irish Open will be a roaring success when the event tees off in July.
With just nine weeks to go until an expected crowd of almost 100,000 people descends on the famous North Clare links, preparations for the event are ramping up as the first tee-off now moves into sharp focus.
Last week’s media day marked the latest indication that the event is now just around the corner, with the signage at the tee boxes erected to give a visceral feel of the transformations to come at the course for the event. Storm Hannah must not have been impressed though, as course officials were forced to take down the signs again for fear they might end up as part of the new rock armour protecting the coastline.
Allis admits the countdown to this year’s Irish Open is now well and truly underway.
“It’s the age old story that while there’s huge appetite and enthusiasm from the time it’s announced, it doesn’t really kick-start until Spring rolls around. The Masters gets underway then and suddenly the golf world really gets into gear and people start to take notice. The media day was really the catalyst to push us to that next level in terms of our plans. We are now in that next phase and we have a lot of good things to come over the next nine weeks” he said.
For those that are familiar with Lahinch, it will be a much different experience for the first week in July. A Championship Village is to be erected in the Castle course while the on-course facilities and services will mean a whole new look for the duration of the Irish Open. Simon says getting those structures in place is the next big phase.
“When we first went down for a visit with Paul McGinley, we were looking around and he has this great vision of what Lahinch could be in terms of developing it into this festival golf course. He wanted to make sure the town was there as part of it and he wanted to make that fit so we looked at how best to make that work. Even in those early meetings we were planning out where the various bits and pieces could go, and I think even Paul was surprised at how it all came together. We have a very good team on the ground and they look at things at things very differently to us in terms of visualising where things could go and mapping things out spatially. We are quite excited about it now and we have some great plans for how it all will go” he noted.
Developing a festival atmosphere around the event to make the Irish Open about much more than just the on-course action is something that McGinley and the European Tour have been passionate about since the announcement was first made. Plans are well underway for family-friendly events in Lahinch throughout each day along with night-time entertainment on the sea-front which it is hoped will mean that there is something for everyone who comes to visit over the course of the tournament.
He said: “We have been working hard to incorporate entertainment into what we deliver. There will be loads of action and activities right across the day. We will have music in the tented village, there will be mini-golf games to get people interested in the sport who might not be already, lots of local food and just plenty fun all round. With Lahinch being so close to the beach that will create plenty opportunities also to just immerse yourself in the whole experience and get involved with everything that Lahinch as a whole has to offer. When it was first floated to have Lahinch host this year’s Open, it was met with immediate positivity. We hadn’t announced it for very long when other members of the European Tour were getting in touch saying how great a place it is to play. It is a very popular course which is situated in a great part of the country and everyone seems to be very fond of it”.
In a geographical sense, Lahinch is just the second course situated on the west coast to host the Irish Open, with Ballybunion and Killarney being the two previous most westerly points to hold that mantle. Other famous courses to have the honour of staging the event include the likes of Adare Manor, Royal Portrush and Carton House. Simon feels the North Clare links is more than capable of being a huge success.
“That’s the beauty of the game is in that there is no stadium jealousy. Every venue we go to have their own particular personalities with their own unique flavours to offer. Lahinch is no different to that. It has a great history and an amazing legacy. It has some beautifully designed McKinely holes, and really quirky natural aspects to it. It is just a brilliant links test. All our research and data suggests that hosting an event like that leaves a wonderful legacy too. There is always a great uplift in the wake of the circus coming to town and the interest in playing tournament venues spikes. There is a great tourism boost and particularly in the sense of highlighting the Wild Atlantic coastline. The impact can be worth anywhere up to €13 million for the local economy and it is a great event to host” he said.
More high profile announcements are set to be made in the coming weeks in terms of both players taking part and entertainment acts to perform. Simon admits there is a few exciting weeks ahead.
“We have got some great announcements coming up and we are still finalising the plans. We hope to have a few special names, but it is a big global schedule now in the golf world with loads of opportunities of places to play. Players can tailor their preparations ahead of the various events but we optimistic of adding a few more big names to our list. We are quite happy with the field we have at the moment and it is only going to get stronger” he concluded.