Golf tourism on rise in Ireland

Doonbeg is managed by Kiawah Development Partners, and the importance of the American dimension is underlined by the preponderance of major figures from U.S. political and commercial life on its advisory board. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (who chaired the Northern Ireland peace talks), Wayne Huizenga (formerly of Blockbuster Entertainment), Kerry Packer (chairman of Consolidated Press Holdings) are just three of 19 influential board members.

In 2006 Ireland will host the Ryder Cup for the very first time. The tournament, which pits the best of Europe against the best of America, will take place at the K-Club in Straffan, Co. Kildare for what ranks as a highlight of any sporting calendar.

The Ryder Cup will be one of the biggest sporting events Ireland has ever had and one of the biggest events in general ever staged here, feels Bord Failte's Damien Ryan. We have another four years to market it.

Earlier this year Bord Failte invested $1 million on the American Express World Golf Championship. The four-day event brought 49 of the top 50 players in the world to Mount Juliet in Kilkenny. The $5.5 million tournament was televised in 140 countries and brought crowds of over 120,174, a gallery record for a WGC event. You couldn't ask for a better showcase for golf here, said Irish champion Padraig Harrington. All the players have loved it here; the course, the facilities. Everything about it.

Tiger Woods won the tournament by a single stroke, and the world champion added his voice to the promotion effort. It's great to play in front of galleries that are knowledgeable, and Irish fans certainly know the game, he remarked. I was telling Paddy [Harrington] they're not only gracious but they understand the game of golf. They were fantastic. And I think the course is playing absolutely gorgeous. The fairways are perfect. The greens are the best we have putted on all year, including the U.S. majors.

In the wake of the September 11 tragedy there were widespread fears that Americans would not travel in numbers this year. Tourist business in Ireland is certainly down, but golf, it seems, is impervious to everything. Golfers are war-proof, recession-proof and waterproof, suggests Paddy O'Looney. If Irish golf tourism remains a quality product offering value for money, he and others are confident that the future is bright.

The indications suggest the same. While I was speaking to Alan Reardon at Lahinch, the fax machine continued to hum behind us. It's no time for complacency but business is brisk. The last fax put in a reservation for a group of eight to tee off at 10 a.m. on August 8, 2003. A whole year in advance and eight adventurers already planning to spoil a good walk! Golfers are indeed a strange breed.

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