*Photograph: Martin Connolly
‘Golf is the second language of Lahinch’ and this relationship is set to leave it’s biggest benefit yet with an estimated €5m to be spent there during the course of The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Fourth generation Lahinch hotelier, Michael Vaughan felt few events held in the coastal village could ever compete with The Irish Open. “Our family have been looking after golfers since Lahinch Golf Club was founded and before that, it’s a vocational thing for us”.
“There has never been a bigger event and I’m not too sure there ever will be a bigger event in Lahinch. By and large we’re a small seaside town, we’ve a permanent population of around 800 people, as we talk here now ticket sales are in the region of 80,000 sold in advance, that’s 80 times the population of the village coming which is a huge thing. In the 1970s we had the Carrolls Pro-Am Series which brought good crowds to the village, the South of Ireland was always seen as the crowning event in Lahinch in any year. We had the European Surf Championships back in the middle of the 1970s which drew a crowd but certainly the crowd that came then wasn’t much more than twice the amount of people that would come for a Sunday, it’s without parallel”.
Since last summer, Vaughan Lodge Hotel has been booked out for the hosting of the European Tour event, partly due to Michael’s early discussions with Lahinch Golf Club to allocate rooms where needed. Representatives from the European Tour, Dubai Duty Free and members of the Sky Sports broadcast team are their guests for the week.
Hosting the event has allowed Vaughan’s to build a ten bedroom extension and employ up to 20 people. “We’ve increased our employment with that, we have thirty rooms here and in the greater village I would say there are probably in the region of 200 people employed directly in hotels and then you have surfing which in the summer time would have at least 40 people employed directly, if you look at in totality tourism is the lifeblood of this town, there is no other industry, agriculture of course in the hinterland but by and large it’s the tourist that makes it for Lahinch and that’s why Lahinch is all so embracing of this particular tournament”.
“My father lord have mercy on him used to say, ‘golf is the second language of the village’ and if you went into certain pubs in the town, The Nineteenth or The Corner Stone, golf would be the first language you wouldn’t get beyond the door without talking about golf, it means everything to us”.
With over 100,000 people expected to visit Lahinch over the duration of the tournament plus millions tuning in via global TV stations, a huge lens is going to be cast upon the area which Michael is confident will leave lasting benefits. “Sometimes when a tournament comes to a venue, the expectation is that people are going to be short changed in one way or another or their prices will inflate or something catastrophic will happen in terms of service, there is an innate respect for the tourist in Lahinch, there has always been that sensibility about giving value and I think Lahinch has to be ourselves, everybody has put their best foot forward, every building has been painted, the flower beds are out. Be ourselves, be natural and be welcoming, that’s what we have to do”.
He added, “One of the big pluses for the television audience is in between the commentary and the shots there is going to be vignettes of the top tourist attractions in Co Clare played out, Clare County Council have done a remarkable video taken on beautiful days showing Loop Head Peninsula, Kilkee, The Burren, The Cliffs of Moher, Lough Derg along East Clare, all of which should be showcased and I think the golfing tourist coming to Lahinch many of them may be in Lahinch for the first time and if they come, they might come back again”.
While he points out that the tented village located on the golf course will bring revenue for The European Tour, the ex President of the Irish Hotels Federation expects millions to be spent in the local economy. “It wouldn’t be beyond the bounds of possibility that the tournament of itself would bring €3 or €4 million into the town directly. You have a lot of ancillary employment in the organisation of the event, much of that is generated by The European Tour who have their own employees, in the run up there has been good business done. I would say certainly €5 million, that could be conservative, we haven’t seen an economic assessment of it, I’m thinking in terms of the accommodation business which I’d understood, the pub business, it’s an unknown because 70 to 80,000 people if everyone of them spent a tenner you’re talking a million euro straight away, they’ll spend more than that so there is a multiplier effect”.
American guests would normally question the former Dromoland Director of Golf Operations on the majors held at Lahinch Golf Club. “To say we’ve The Irish Open means the CV is finally complete but not too complete because I think the Golf Club would like to host the Walker Cup that would be a possibility into the future. Lahinch is a pure golfing town, it loves the amateur golf competition and the idea that a further tournament would come in the future would be tremendous”.