European Tour chiefs tight-lipped on reported plan to move Irish Open

The European Tour has promised a decision on this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open “in due course” following reports the Rolex Series event could be switched from Mount Juliet to Northern Ireland.

The event was originally scheduled for the end of May at the Co. Kilkenny resort but then postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and it appears the Irish Government’s ongoing public health restrictions could force the tournament into the Northern Irish jurisdiction in order to get played.

The Irish Open seems the favourite to fill the vacancy created by the postponement of the Ryder Cup to 2021, with September 24-27 now free. Yet that means it falls directly after the rearranged US Open at Winged Foot in New York state.

Travellers arriving from the US are required under current Republic of Ireland rules to restrict their movements for 14 days following their admission to the country. No quarantine would be required if golfers flew from New York into Northern Ireland and the Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort near Ballymena has been touted as a possible venue.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the European Tour said: “An announcement about the 2020 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be made in due course.”

If the Irish Open does move to Galgorm, it will cap a great month for the Co. Antrim resort. European Challenge Tour event The Northern Ireland Open, supported by The R&A, is to be played there from September 3-6.

How many golfers the venue change will persuade to rush back from the US Open remains to be seen, although one imagines Graeme McDowell as Dubai Duty Free Irish Open tournament host for 2020 and 2021 will be first on the plane out of New York bound for home, with Open champion Shane Lowry close behind.

Jon Rahm, who regained the world number-one ranking from Justin Thomas after last Sunday’s PGA Championship, was victorious at Lahinch last July and had committed to defending his title on the original date in May.

Rory McIlroy did so much to revive the Irish Open following the financial crisis of 2008-11 and was tournament host from 2015-18, winning the title at the K Club in 2016. Yet his appearance at the 65th edition of the event seems unlikely given recent statements suggesting he would be unwilling to leave the USA amid the current pandemic.

Perhaps he will use the down week to continue working with sponsor Omega to design a luxury watch capable of withstanding the shock of the wearer hitting a golf ball.

In a recent interview with wristwatch website Hodinkee, McIlroy said he had helped with the design of Omega’s new €45,000 sports watch.

"You can't just go out with any watch and whack a golf ball around," McIlroy told the website. "The shock is going to ruin the mechanism inside.

“It has to be the right watch.”