Image courtesy EuropeanTour.com
By Kent Gray
The coronavirus pandemic has cut a swathe through the 2020 Race to Dubai schedule. Thankfully the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has survived the chaos although, like a lot of professional golf events around the world, not totally unscathed.
Originally a Rolex Series event scheduled for Mount Juliet Estate in County Kilkenny from May 28-31, the DDF Irish Open was postponed on March 30 due to COVID-19. Now the €1.25 million European Tour event has a new date, a new home and less prize money than originally planned for 2020.
Galgorm Castle Golf Club will become the fourth club from Northern Ireland to host the island of Ireland’s national open from September 24-27, the date vacated by the rescheduling of The 2020 Ryder Cup to 202. It follows the week after the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and will be one of just five regular season events (not including majors or WGC events) before the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, rescheduled from mid Nov. to Dec.10-13.
It will be the first time the County Antrim venue has hosted the DDF Irish Open.
The 2020 Ryder Cup would have been a celebration of Irish golf with three-time Major Champion Padraig Harrington captaining Europe in the contest at Whistling Straits – the third European Captain from the island of Ireland in the past four contests. While that will now happen next September, the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm this September will mark a new chapter in the tournament’s history.
With quarantine restrictions for travellers into the Republic of Ireland ongoing and the ban on mass gatherings still in place, the European Tour made the decision to move the tournament to Northern Ireland where it will be subject to similar guidelines to the current ‘UK Swing’ events, including being played behind closed doors. Planning remains on-going for the tournament to return to Mount Juliet in 2021 providing all health guidelines in place at that time can be met.
Following the changes to the date and the venue, allied to the overall disruption to the schedule, the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will have a prize fund of €1.25 million and therefore will not be part of the Rolex Series. The European Tour will announce full plans for the Rolex Series in due course.
“The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is an integral part of the European Tour’s schedule and despite the obvious challenges of staging any event in the current circumstances, we felt it was important to continue with the tournament providing we could do so safely,” said European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley.
“We did that, first and foremost with the support of Colm McLoughlin and everyone involved with our title sponsor Dubai Duty Free who once again showed commitment and understanding of the current global situation, and proved what a wonderful partner of the European Tour they are. We also did it with the support of the Northern Ireland Executive who deserve our sincere thanks.
“With the ongoing restrictions in the Republic of Ireland, we opted to move the tournament to Northern Ireland and are extremely grateful to Gary Henry and everyone at Galgorm Castle Golf Club for stepping up to host us.”
Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, said: “We have been working closely with the European Tour over the past several months to find a way of staging the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this year. The priority of course has been to stage an event that strictly follows all government protocols in light of Covid-19 and to ensure the safety of players and all those involved in the event.
“We are pleased that the Galgorm Castle Golf Club in County Antrim has been selected as a suitable venue, with the Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort as the official accommodation. Without a doubt, the tournament will be different this year but we think that the players and fans are going to enjoy this return to world-class golf on the Island of Ireland.”
Galgorm Castle Golf Club has hosted the Northern Ireland Open on the European Challenge Tour since 2013, including last year’s innovative tournament – the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men|Women presented by Modest! Golf Management which featured both a men’s and women’s competition.
Despite hosting the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open from September 24-27, the County Antrim venue will continue its involvement with the Challenge Tour by also hosting the Northern Ireland Open hosted by The R&A from September 3-6.