The Irish Open, Lough Erne and the government’s £50million tourism strategy

ENNISKILLEN, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 20: The approach to the 637 yards par 5, 9th hole 'Halfway House' on the Faldo Championship Course at Lough Erne Resort on October 20, 2010 in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

The approach to the 637 yards par 5, 9th hole ‘Halfway House’ on the Faldo Championship Course at Lough Erne Resort

You may have read or heard some of the golf chatter about the Irish Open and the Lough Erne Resort during the week.

The short version goes like this – Back in April 2014 the European Tour, the Northern Ireland Executive and Tourism NI unveiled a deal to bring the Irish Open to Northern Ireland in 2015 (Royal County Down) and 2017 (Lough Erne Resort).
Last Thursday, whilst announcing ambitious plans for the 2016 staging at the K Club http://bit.ly/1VA6JvB, a European Tour representative made it very clear that no decision had been taken about a venue for 2017.
Naturally enough this caused a certain amount of confusion and I dare say, consternation, for the good people at Lough Erne who, it should be known, spent last week at the PGA Show in Orlando marketing themselves as the ‘Home of the 2017 Irish Open’.
In response, Lough Erne issued a very bullish statement on Friday, in which they made it clear that as far as the owners and management were concerned, it was business as usual and they were planning to host the Irish Open in 2017.

You can read full details here:-
http://Lough Erne could miss out on 2017 Irish Open http://www.newsletter.co.uk/sport/golf-news/lough-erne-could-miss-out-on-2017-irish-open-1-7187154

http://Lough Erne Resort insist plans are in place to host Irish Open 2017 http://www.newsletter.co.uk/sport/golf-news/lough-erne-resort-insist-plans-are-in-place-to-host-irish-open-2017-1-7189096

You may think, so what – as long as the Irish Open is successful, draws decent crowds, has a large prize fund and attracts some of the world’s best players you don’t care where it’s played, North or South of the border.
You may even be of the opinion that the Irish Open should always be on a classic links course and in an ideal world it would be played before the Open Championship as part of a ‘links swing’ alongside the Scottish Open.
Which is all well and good but the Irish Open exists in the real world and there’s politics in play here – not just golf politics – proper government politics.
In March 2015 Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster – who was then the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment – launched a strategy which aims to grow the value of golf tourism in Northern Ireland to £50 million a year by 2020.

You can read it yourself here – http://bit.ly/1nxSpsp

Major golfing events such are the Irish Open are considered – ‘key economic drivers’ and to all intents and purposes Northern Ireland looked to have got things perfectly organised – Irish Opens in 2015, 2017 and then the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in 2019.

Based on the strategy. taking the Irish Open to Lough Erne is part of a wider plan to prove that the Northern Ireland golf product has more to offer than simply links golf – which makes sense when you are trying to grow an entire sector by £17 million in five years. For the strategy to work, the ‘hidden gems’ and the established parkland venues all have to increase visitor numbers.

The issue facing Tourism NI and the Stormont Executive is that things have changed outside of the control of government.
In the intervening 12 months or so, the Irish Open has been backed very publicly by Rory McIlroy and his Rory Foundation – which is doing some great charitable work  – and a sponsor has come on board in shape of Dubai Duty Free.
The Irish Open is no longer the poor relation relying on government support and the good graces of the European Tour to survive.
When you add into the mix a new CEO – Keith Pelley – who has taken control of the European Tour, there’s every opportunity for some conflict amongst all the interested parties.

Pelley has already made some difficult decisions in his short time in office – he took a firm stance regarding the French Open and the WGC event http://po.st/hXbNJf – so it will be interesting to see how he negotiates his way through this issue.

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One Response to “The Irish Open, Lough Erne and the government’s £50million tourism strategy”

  1. adrian mclaughlin Says:

    Nice piece Paul! All roads are leading away from Fermanagh in 2017 by the looks of things. Politics aside its a shame that their once adopted son isnt too keen on the venue?

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