Subject to confirmation, it seems the Irish Open is set to return next May to Mount Juliet, which staged the event to considerable acclaim from 1993 to 1995 and successfully hosted Tiger Woods and the American Express World Championship in 2002 and 2004.

The international  mobile phone network 3 is due to be announced next week as sponsor of the event for the next three years and, provided the price is right and management feels it has sufficient time to make preparations, Mount Juliet will be the venue at least for 2009.

There had been a question mark over the future of the event for want of a sponsor, particularly in light of the recent economic downturn, after Tom Kane of Adare Manor ended his two year association with the tournament last summer.

But now 3 have stepped into the breach, encouraged in no small way by Waterford’s Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Martin Cullen. He was deeply involved in the search for suitable financial backing and made contact with 3’s board of directors in Hong Kong when in China for the Olympic Games. It is understood final arrangements were agreed in Dublin on Tuesday between representatives of the European Tour and the new sponsor. Prizemoney for next year is expected to be €3 million, which represents an increase of 20 pc on this year’s purse. And the intention is to raise it further over the following two years.

Tourism boost

The Irish Open had been pencilled into the Tour’s schedule for May 14 to 17 next, pending the acquisition of a sponsor. Now that one has been found, the Minister, an enthusiastic player himself, clearly favours Mount Juliet as the location for the event, given the success of its previous ventures into big time golf.

“I think Mount Juliet would be an excellent choice”, he said. “The Americans know it and the good word for the facilities there could be a major selling factor in getting back some of the leading US players – it is a fabulous venue”.

Stating that the government, through his Department, was committed to ensuring the tournament’s future, Mr Cullen said golf was one of Ireland’s few natural resources and a major marketing tool in terms of tourism.

Provided Mount Juliet is confirmed as the venue, it will mean a multi-million euro boost to tourism locally. Hotels and guest houses within a twenty mile radius are guaranteed to be booked up for the week of the event as tens of thousands make their way to Thomastown to see the big stars of the sport in action.

Waterford Airport will also be a hive of activity as fans fly in from abroad and of course several of the top golfers now have their own private jets for transport.

As was the case when Mount Juliet staged the Irish Open and the World Golf Championship before, other golf clubs from the region will co-operate in the provision of hundreds of stewards for the four days of the competition and the pro-am which precedes it. Security will also be tight, as is now the case for all major world sporting fixtures.