Padraig Harrington has announced that he will front Failte Ireland’s new marketing campaign free of charge.
The 38-year-old Dubliner said that he would act as Ireland’s Golf Ambassador for the next 12 months as part of the $1.85 million project as a gift to Irish tourism.
"It’s not a commercial transaction," said Harrington. "Basically my sponsors pay me enough that I can do something like this. I am really delighted that I can help out.
"It is not a huge burden on me in terms of time and it won’t affect my ability to play golf. My sponsors are essentially covering this. They all look after me so well that I don’t need to be taxing the Government at this time."
For three years until 2007 Harrington was the face of tourism in Ireland. His contract was said to have cost the taxpayer only $222,000. This contract was cancelled which turned out to be a huge mistake.
Bank of Ireland then became his sponsors at a cost of $927,000. Over the three years he was been associated with the bank they have made an incredible return on their investment.
Harrington became the first home winner of the Irish Open in 25 years and he won three majors in the space of 13 months. All of his great success was going on at a time when the numbers of golfing visitors to Ireland was falling dramatically.
Harrington’s success has meant that he is now secured sponsorship of over $24 million with FTI and Wilson Golf allowing him to help out Irish tourism free of charge when it needs him most.
"We needed this focal point – something internationally recognizable for consumers and a rallying point for the Irish golf industry as well,” said Keith McCormack, head of Golf Tourism at Fáilte Ireland.
"We have a new brand that is all about being warm, infectious and unassuming. Padraig is all of those things. It is the perfect match."
Golf promotion in Ireland has received over $6 million this year with over $1.8 million dedicated to international marketing. Further investment will go into events such as the 3 Irish Open, the Irish Seniors Open, the AIB Ladies Irish Open and the 2011 Solheim Cup.
Redmond O’Donoghue, chairman of Fáilte Ireland, admitted that not a great deal of focus had been placed on the promotion of golf in Ireland since the success of the 2006 Ryder Cup.
"The 2006 Ryder Cup was fantastic and maybe there was a small vacuum," O’Donoghue said. "After the Ryder Cup, a lot of things came to pass. We probably lost the run of ourselves in terms of pricing and then in comes the biggest recession of modern times."
The multimedia campaign now in place, “Time to Play”, will use Harrington’s image to promoted golf in Ireland. As part of the campaign Fáilte Ireland has established an online tee-time booking system, which will make planning golfing excursions easier for visitors.
Recently, Harrington has been suffering from a neck injury that has upset his perception and alignment. He claims that he is now fully recovered and next week he will tee off at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth for the first time since 2007.
"I am thrilled about where my game is. The weaker parts of my game over the last number of years I feel have improved immensely so it is a question of making sure the putting is as good as ever," Harrington said.