The 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be laced with nostalgia for the leading airport retailer’s Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Colm McLoughlin. The tournament is set to be held at Lahinch Golf Club in County Clare for the first time from July 4-7 and it’s a venue, and a county, of great significance to McLoughlin, Dubai Duty Free and the whole duty free industry.
“The duty free industry was started in Shannon Airport, which is close by, in 1947 by Clare man, Dr. Brendan O’ Regan,” said Irishman McLoughlin who joined Shannon Duty Free on June 1st 1969, and is therefore marking 50 years in the duty free industry this month.”
Colm was general manager of Shannon Duty Free in 1983 when the Government of Dubai contracted the Irish aviation authority, Aer Rianta, to set up Dubai Duty Free and Colm headed up the Irish team. When Dubai Duty Free opened for business in December of that year, Colm was asked to stay on as General Manager and he has continued as head of the operation, which last year recorded record sales of US$2.015 billion.
“As a company, we really liked the choice of Lahinch as venue for this year’s tournament because of that link with Shannon, County Clare and the entire duty free industry. It’s going to be extra special for everyone involved with Dubai Duty Free this year.
“Also, my wife Breeda is from County Clare so she’s very happy that the tournament will be played in her home county!” added McLoughlin, who was himself a member of Lahinch Golf Club when he worked in Shannon.
Since Dubai Duty Free took over the title sponsorship in 2015, the growth of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has been astonishing. Already one of golf’s oldest and most historic events, having been played since 1927, it became part of the European Tour’s prestigious eight-event Rolex Series in 2017 which saw the prize fund increase to a whopping US$7 million, making it one of the biggest events on the Race to Dubai schedule. For the past four years four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy has been the figurehead of the tournament but this year marks the start of a new era where the modern greats of the Irish game will form a ‘pool’ of hosts who will rotate each year. First up is 2014 victorious European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley while Major champions Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell as well as Rory McIlroy will all join the roster.
McGinley too, has a special connection with Lahinch having won the prestigious South of Ireland Championship, which has been played at the venue since 1895, in 1991. The four-time European Tour winner has promised a ‘festival’ vibe at this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, with music and entertainment featuring alongside the golf and the unusual layout of the stunning Alister MacKenzie designed links course, parts of which meander right into the town, set to create an extra special atmosphere.
“The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has a rich history and tradition of being hosted on great golf courses,” said McGinley. “The Irish heritage is built on fun, sociability and laughter. When asked to become the tournament host I wanted to help create the right environment and canvas to accomplish a meeting of both ideals.
“I know Colm has a soft spot for Lahinch from the days he played in County Clare and I have fond memories myself of winning the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch in 1991. So, Lahinch is that special place for me and Colm and I can’t think of a better place to stage the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. It’s going to be a wonderful week in spectacular surroundings by the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.”
As well a strong Irish contingent of McGinley, Clarke, McDowell, Harrington, Shane Lowry and 2016 Olympian Seamus Power, who was invited to play by Dubai Duty Free, a host of big international names has joined the field including Ryder Cup legends Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, 2017 Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen, two-time Major champion Martin Kaymer, 2018 winning Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjørn and of course, defending champion Russell Knox.
It was today announced that Dubai’s favourite adopted son, 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic winner Rafa Cabrera Bello, has also added his name to the star-studded field.
The Spaniard has enjoyed some strong results on Irish soil and this year’s event will mark his 11th consecutive appearance.
His best performance at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open came seven years ago at Royal Portrush – venue for this year’s Open Championship – when the 35 year old birdied three of the final four holes to make a late charge for victory but finished in a share of second behind winner Jamie Donaldson.
“I’ve always enjoyed the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and playing in front of the Irish crowds so I’m really looking forward to going back,” said Cabrera Bello.
“I love playing links golf courses and I have heard Lahinch is a true test of golf and with Paul McGinley as host, I am sure it is going to be great week. I have also heard it is a big surfing town so I’m hoping to get out and catch a few waves during the week!”
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive Officer of the European Tour, said: “Dubai Duty Free have been an invaluable partner to the European Tour since coming on board as title sponsor of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in 2015, a relationship which, of course, was elevated last year when they also became an Official Partner of the European Tour.
“The vision and commitment of Colm McLoughlin and his team over these past five years has helped the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open become one of the most prestigious and eagerly anticipated weeks on our calendar and this year is no exception. I know our visit to Lahinch and County Clare has special resonance for Colm and his wife Breeda and, like them, we are all eagerly anticipating another superb week.”
McLoughlin added: “We’re pleased with the growth of the tournament and from a sponsorship point of view, we’re happy with the Return On Investment (ROI) that is generated. The TV coverage generated during last year’s tournament is valued at US$158.5 million and of that US$50.2 million is for the DDF brand, and this is one of the key measures by which we gauge the sponsorship’s success.
“We also measure the quality of the players in the field and this year’s line-up is very exciting. Paul McGinley has put in a huge effort to attract many of the top players to confirm, and he has done a great job.”
The 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open takes place at Lahinch Golf Club from July 4-7.