Location, location, location. You want to sell a golf tournament, it’s as important as selling a house.
This week the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation (which is not the longest tournament name ever although close, see below) is at Ballyliffin Golf Club in County Donegal. It’s a renowned links, one of Ireland’s many hidden gems, but this one is especially hidden.
Situated upon the North West tip of the isolated county, I was trying to think of a valid Scottish comparison. The obvious one is Dornoch, but while that great links still a bit of a trachle to get to, it’s much too accessible to compare to this. Imagine if they put a golf course on the westmost tip of Skye, maybe.
Ballyliffin is a quality course and venue, for the players at least. The Irish tend to turn out for anyone who shows up with a club and a ball, and they’re likely to get fantastic crowds again.
But as the Scottish Open has found, this idea of taking the national Open around all the parts has it limitations.
This week’s field at Ballyliffin has just eight of the world’s top 50 competing, some of whom are in only just in there.
In Paris last week there were 14 of the world’s top 50 present. At Gullane for the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open next week, so far 22 of the top 50 have declared.
Now, obviously the week before The Open itself is a primary slot in the schedule, and the Scottish Open benefits. Not all the top players want to play the week before a major; Tiger Woods never has, but for one season when they shoehorned a WGC the week before the PGA. But a great many do.
For the last couple of seasons, Rory has been politely but consistently badgering the tour and Martin Gilbert, the chief of ASI, to “swap” weeks and allow the Irish the most prized slot.
As Keith Pelley has pointed out, deals are signed until into the next decade and the Scottish isn’t shifting.
But anyway, the slot prior to the Open gives a great chance at a strong field but not a guarantee.
Strength of field, as detailed by the Official World Rankings, gives us a clue. Since the OGWR started keeping figures in 2005, the Scottish averages a strength of field figure of 327. That’s not bad at all; Wentworth, the European Tour’s flagship, averages 365 over the same period.
This year Wentworth’s strength of field was a lowly 283, a figure that will be comfortably passed at Gullane next week. The Scottish has had a stronger field than the tour flagship three times since 2005.
None of those years were when the Scottish was held at Castle Stuart. Despite the superb course and the fact that Inverness and its airport with London links are just a few minutes away, it’s clearly deemed too far out of the way.
The strength of field of the Scottish at Castle Stuart has been as low as 240, and that’s with Phil Mickelson coming every single year.
I’d be hugely disappointed if the Scottish never went back to Castle Stuart, but I could understand why they wouldn’t.
Like I say, the crowds will be out at Ballyliffin anyway. It’ll look great no doubt, and with the weather the way it’s been hopes are high that we’ll get three successive weeks of burned gold, fast-running links golf in the true tradition.
But once they’re done with their experiment up in Ballyliffin, I wouldn’t expect the Irish to be going to such a remote venue again, no matter how pretty it is.
It’s not the last chance saloon anymore, but final qualifying for the Open, held today, still carries that frisson of excitement .
The Scottish leg is being held at The Renaissance Club, the relatively new and exclusive facility just over the wall from Muirfield. The club has Scottish Open aspirations and this may all part of the dry run.
Only three spots are available at each of the four FQ venues. With Russell Knox’s success in France and Paul Lawrie’s unfortunate injury withdrawl, we have just three Scots in the field at Carnoustie; the lowest number ever is four, at Hoylake in 2006.
There are three high-finisher spots left at Ballyfliffin and Gullane as well. Fingers and everything else crossed.
Short and sweet
The road is as long as the name to The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation, but it’s not even the leader among long tournament names.
Getting every sponsors’ name in is the usual culprit, and of course they insist us in the media use every single word. Only under extreme duress, however.
With 11 words, the Irish tied the historic classic, The Bank of Scotland East of Scotland Open Amateur Strokeplay Championship.
But the all-time leader is from the LPGA in 2011 – (deep breath) – The Lorena Ochoa Invitational presented by Banamex and Jalisco It Happens Within You. A stonking 13 words.
They saw sense and heard the media wailing, and it was for one year only.