*Lahinch Golf Club. Photograph: Martin Connolly
Paul McGinley has been humbled and surprised by how the people of Clare have embraced The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Speaking on Tuesday, the tournament host confirmed the event was likely to sell out. “We’re well on our way to having sellout crowds for the weekend which is unbelievable really considering the Open also is going to be on here in a few weeks time in this country of ours and we can sell out, hopefully, two golf tournaments in the space of three weeks”.
With The Open Championships teeing off on Thursday July 18th, McGinley outlined that they have attempted to style Lahinch similar to Portrush in order to entice more golfers to partake in The Irish Open, “Obviously we’re not copying exactly everything we do because of the different designs of the holes”. “I’m a great believer in that and the players who come here will feel really well prepared to win a major championship in a few weeks time”.
Putting together has not been a stressful situation for the Dubliner. “It’s been fun. One of the things I’ve missed since the Ryder Cup captaincy, well, it was all of it. The captaincy was the end of the program. And that’s how I saw it. I saw it as a program, putting it all together”.
“It hasn’t been stressful; it’s been challenging. I wouldn’t say it’s been stressful. Like any project you’re involved in, there’s ups and downs. With the Ryder Cup there’s plenty of downs as well as ups in the preparation. And you’re watching players’ form, for example. If it goes up, you focus another, and then it comes to the pick. Nothing is free-flowing. But that’s just life”.
Lahinch’s current sight is one to behold and it is part of the vision McGinley had for the Golf Club when first sitting down with General Manager Paddy Keane to discuss the prospect of The Irish Open being held in Clare for the first time. “The thing that surprised me and humbled me and that makes probably the biggest impression on me is how the locals have embraced it more than anything else. To be on the verge of sellout is quite extraordinary, considering, as I said, the Open is on in two weeks time”.
He reserved special praise for Pat Dowling, Chief Executive of Clare County Council for his assistance throughout the whole process. “That’s the thing that makes me happiest the most to be honest, the fact that people think let’s do something, let’s support this. And they have, everybody. Just look at the likes of the County Council, packed out. I met all of those in one of the very first meetings, and they promised me this, that and the other. And I said, OK, I love it. And they’ve delivered on everything. I just saw Pat Dowling and they’ve done everything, the bunting in the street, the painting of buildings. Somebody said to me in the airport today, ‘if a dog sat down for five minutes he would have got painted’. The whole embrace of the community has been fabulous”.
1991 saw Paul win the South of Ireland Golf Championship in Lahinch, the same year in which he turned professional, the course has a special affinity for him and he maintained bringing a sporting event of this scale was needed for the South West of Ireland. “The other trend you’re seeing in sport is that all the big sporting events, the big matches, the big rugby matches, they’re all in capital cities, all in major cities. What about the rest of the country.
“And when you move it out, these people are starving and that was one of the ideas about coming down to the South West of Ireland was first of all, it’s separate away from the north, but also to come down to a part of the country that really doesn’t have big sporting events. Yeah, you have your Munster rugby, Limerick winning the All-Ireland hurling last year and in Clare in 2013, you have golf but you don’t have the huge scale that we have here at the golf this week”.