At the beginning of April, Simon Alliss will lead his expanded team putting ‘boots on the ground’ at Mount Juliet in Kilkenny to prepare for the 2021 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
It will be an eight week burst of high adrenaline activity to get the course ready to play home to a collection of the world’s best golfers and a paying crowd of between 80-100,000 fans.
Last week was a more leisurely affair at the latest Inside the Ropes event for friends and potential partners of the tournament as we played around the 18 holes that will soon be transformed by hundreds of miles of cabling and grandstands around the course.
“When the professionals stand up on the 18th tee this green will look like a postage stamp,” Alliss said with a mix of pride and a slight fear as to how that will look when the pressure is on.
He is a smooth operator and well able to deal with the demands of so many different audiences. He also loves this tournament which he will now be in charge of as Championship Director for a sixth year.
“Since Rory McIlroy came on board as tournament host for the first time in 2015, bringing Dubai Duty Free on board at the same time the tournament has thrived.”
“It was an obvious choice to put into the Rolex Series that lifts our strongest events into a minimum prize fund space of $7 million.”
“For players like Jon Rahm though it is a love of playing the tournament rather than just the money that keeps him coming back for more.”
“It has always been a special event. You are never quite sure what it will throw up but you do know it will be good.”
“It feels a little bit wild, and with the massive crowds it attracts it can sometimes be like the mischievous, slightly naughty relative who everyone wants to be around at the family gatherings.”
“It has an immense complexity to it. Think of 8,000 cars a day coming down onto roads that were never ever built for that volume. We work closely with the local Gardaí, the residents and the people of the towns that are within the tournament radius, and we have a plan worked out that will make getting to and from the course as seamless as possible.”
“The last time the European Tour was here at Mount Juliet was in 2004 and all of the plans that were drawn up then have been binned so this year we have started from scratch but we are in a great place for it.”
“Last year at Lahinch was one of the great Irish Opens and then for Shane Lowry to win like he did in the Open Championship, it all added up to a really great 12 months. Now comes the job of building on that and we could not have a better backdrop to do just that.”
“Graeme McDowell is on board as Tournament Host the year and he is playing a great part in making it a must play event on the calendar. He has a really good sense of humour and with the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival on in the City the same weekend there will be a lot of crossover between the two.”
“Our hospitality is three times bigger this year. The move back to May to accommodate the Olympic Games has moved it back into a better window for corporates and hospitality and we have upsized to account for greater demand.”
“The 450 places on the 18th green are sold out for three of the four days and we have another 400 places in the Village and more hospitality around the course. The village is in the middle of the two loops this year and that makes a big difference.”
“We will build a temporary clubhouse for the player facilities, and the media enclosure and the demands in terms of power, level ground and so much more are huge.
“Being back close to Dublin has also had a positive impact. The last time we were here was in 2016 when Rory won and a lot of people have very fond memories of that.”
“Last year at Lahinch we had to cap the attendance at 20,000 a day and that was completely sold out a long way in advance. We have the capacity to absorb more on a parkland course like Mount Juliet and we expect to see large crowds turning up to see the best of the best in action.”
“We are so fortunate to have so many great properties in Ireland. It’s most likely that we will be able to confirm shortly that 2021 will be going North and I’m already planning out for a number of years after that as well.”
The long term focus will give way to making sure that everything is pinpoint perfect for May over the coming weeks.
Allis is looking forward to making that happen and preparing for what fun and games might yet emerge.
Our final question was what he enjoys most about working on the Irish Open that makes it stand out from other tournaments.
“Great history and heritage are important but mostly it is the Irish people,” he said with a twinkle. You get the sense that no matter the long hours and the twisty roads, it is something he is really looking forward to. So are we.