This Thursday marks the point on the calendar where there are now just 10 weeks to go until the 2019 Irish Open tees off at Lahinch Golf Club.
The famous North Clare links course is in countdown mode ahead of the event with some of the top golfers in the world confirmed to be part of the 156 strong field that will take to the course on July 4.
Home favourites Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell are among some of the stars confirmed to be coming to the Banner, while the likes of Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood, Danny Willet, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Thomas Bjorn and defending champion Russell Knox have also accepted the invitation from tournament host Paul McGinley.
It is set to be a historic event for Lahinch Golf Club and the wider North and West Clare areas. General Manager at Lahinch Golf Paddy Keane admits everyone is looking forward to what the next few weeks will bring.
“The club was founded on Good Friday so traditionally that is when the AGM is held. That’s when our season really kicks off and then a fortnight later is the May Bank Holiday weekend. It’s really after that the work on constructing hospitality suites and those facilities will start with the European Tour and their contractors so things will start ramping up then. The European Tour looks after all that work. They basically take control of the site for the tournament and run all the facilities and things like medical and security. There’s a lot of work to get to that point and there are a lot of things to consider. We will have activity both sides of the Liscannor Road and we need to look at the flow of players and spectators around the clubhouse and practice ranges and all that. The Championship Village will be out on the Castle course and that’s where the catering facilities and main stage and shops will be. It’s just getting the health and safety aspect of the event right and that has taken quite a bit of work over the last few months” he noted.
While a top class golf tournament is the central sporting focus, all those involved from the very outset have been intent of building a much wider appeal for the entire community to engage with. It is the largest sporting event to be hosted in Clare and with an obvious financial boost to come for Lahinch and the surrounding areas, Paddy feels it is vital that everyone in the locality feels like they are part of it.
He said: “The golf club is virtually in the village. The second green is just on the edge of the village so what we tend to say is that people come for the golf and come back for the experience. As much as the golf club is revered, the experience is going to be about much more than that. It’s about engaging with all the local businesses and making it family orientated. We want to create a festival atmosphere all over town and everyone involved has really embraced that. There will be music in the town across Friday, Saturday and Sunday so that will really add to the atmosphere. There’s also going to be a re-entry model in operation so you can leave the course and head away exploring for a while before coming back to it again. That’s a big plus for all the businesses around too and that’s something Paul (McGinley) really wanted to have. He told us about some of the Australian Opens he played in along the coast and saw how the local area was really involved in those events, and made it about more than just the tournament so I think you will really get that at Lahinch this year too”.
The countdown to the Irish Open is rapidly gathering pace with everyone in Lahinch getting all hands on deck to ensure that the final pieces of the jigsaw fit together. Paddy says it has been something everyone has worked incredibly hard toward since the announcement was made that Lahinch Golf Club would be hosting the tournament.
“To be honest at this stage most of the heavy lifting is done. Traffic management is an important issue for everyone involved and a lot of that type of logistical work in terms of where things are going to go on site has all been done. The last ten months has been all about getting the major things in place and now it is a matter of constructing the venue. There could still be changes to those plans because something might not fit right when you start putting it up, but most of those plans are all agreed at this stage. Access to the course is going to be limited and we are lucky that other clubs in Clare and neighbouring counties have accommodated our members with concession fee so there’s all that to take into account also. The day-to-day work at the club has to go on too and we will have the South of Ireland championships two weeks after the Open and the Home Internationals are here in September so we have to work towards those events also” he noted.
With some of the world’s top golfers coming to take on the course in Lahinch, measures have been taken to ensure it is in the best possible shape. Paddy says the green-keeping staff in particular have been working hard to make sure all boxes are ticked.
He said: “We have been protecting the course up to now and we have had fairway mats in place, which I know is not every golfers dream. People tend to forget though that we had a drought last summer when we lost most of our grass fairways, but they have recovered really well and the team here have done a wonderful job in getting the course back into shape. For the moment, it will be normal play until the June Bank Holiday weekend when fairway protection will be put back in place, and the course will close then for two weeks before the tournament begins. That will allow us to get dry cuts on the greens and fairways and the European Tour have a lot of work to do out on the course in terms of constructing their tee-boxes and signage. There will be somewhere between 30 to 40 trucks arriving the week before and all their cabling has to be run around the course so from a health and safety perspective you couldn’t really have people out on the course while all that is going on. We have had great support from our members who are the ones most affected by all the disruptions but hopefully the memories created during the week that the Irish Open was held in Lahinch will live long in the memory and people will have long forgotten any difficulties in terms of access to the golf course”.
Hosting the Irish Open is a date that all the staff and management at Lahinch have been eagerly awaiting since the news was first announced. With a hectic few months ahead, Paddy is confident everyone will enjoy the experience of such a unique occasion.
“There is a lot of work to it so sometimes the excitement of it might get lost in the volume of stuff we have to get through, but it is something everyone is really looking forward to. We said it to everyone when we were out over Christmas that it is something everyone should really enjoy. It is going to be an extremely busy week, there will be long hours involved and a lot of work to do, but really it should be enjoyed. There is no point in the Irish Open being here and people not enjoying it. We will have failed if our doesn’t enjoy the week that will be in. It is about making sure that they can all engage with the tournament and all that it will bring. We will also have around 30 green-keeping volunteers who are giving up their time to come and help out the team here and there are also nearly 60 volunteers from other clubs who are giving a hand out with stewarding. It’s going to be a lot of work for the week, but hopefully people will enjoy the experience” he said.
It is expected that upwards of 90,000 people will filter through Lahinch during the Irish Open, while TV coverage is set to reach an audience of 650 million people. Paddy feels it is an opportunity for Lahinch and the whole of Clare to build on already prestigious international reputation.
“Lahinch Golf Club is already highly regarded across the globe and when the decision to host the event was being made, what we looked at was the opportunity to market Clare. It is much bigger that just being about the golf club, this is about the whole county. We will have the likes of the Golf Channel taking a live feed and their reporters will be on the ground. When something like that is happening, it becomes about more than just the golf. You want people talking about their experience across the week and the places they went to and what they saw. That is going to be a legacy for the tournament so it important that we get it right and market it across the globe. Hopefully we will see people who come for the Open coming back again for breaks away and hopefully that can benefit the whole region” he concluded.