With only a few months to go until this year’s Irish Open hosted by The Rory Foundation, two more legends of the game – four-time Major-winner Ernie Els and Ryder Cup talisman, Sergio Garcia – have become the latest superstars to add their names to what is fast becoming one of the strongest fields in the tournament’s recent history.
This year’s event at Royal County Down will mark Garcia’s first appearance in 15 years at the tournament which launched his professional career as a precocious teenager in 1999, when he captured his first European Tour title at Druids Glen.
Meanwhile Els, who has accumulated 28 Tour titles during the course of a glittering career spanning more than a quarter of a century, will visit the Irish Open for the first time since 1998.
Their long-awaited return will only add to the growing hype surrounding this year’s event at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, with American Rickie Fowler and former World Number One Lee Westwood having already announced their attendance alongside tournament host and World Number One Rory McIlroy, his compatriots Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell and defending champion Mikko Ilonen.
McIlroy, whose charitable foundation The Rory Foundation will be the official tournament host this year, has been instrumental in attracting some of the biggest names in world golf to the County Down venue, regarded as one of the greatest links courses in the world.
Garcia, 35, is eagerly anticipating his first appearance on Northern Irish soil as a professional having enjoyed great success in the Republic, where he won the Irish Open as a teenager before playing a prominent role in The Ryder Cup at the K Club in County Kildare seven years later.
“I cannot wait to return to a tournament which has such great memories for me,” said the Spaniard, who won four points as part of the victorious European team at The K Club.
“You could say this event is where it all began for me. I was just 19 when I won in Druids Glen in 1999, only two months after I turned professional.
“Not only am I returning to a very special event, but to a venue of which I have heard some incredible things. Royal County Down is a world-famous links and going by what Rory has been telling me, it could possibly be the best course I play this year.
“I feel like I have a great connection with the Irish golf fans, not only from my victory back in 1999 but also from The 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club. They are knowledgeable and respectful and also good fun so it is going to be a great week.”
Els, meanwhile, is relishing the opportunity to claim a second career title in Ireland, having won the WGC – American Express Championship at Mount Juliet Country Club in 2004.
He said: “I haven’t played in the Irish Open for a while and I spoke with Rory in Dubai recently about the event and am very happy for him that he is involved in hosting such a prestigious event. It is a similar role I have taken with the South African Open and it is a great honour to be able to host your national open.
“I was at Royal County Down with my dad and a friend in 1998 and remember the course well. It has such great history and is probably in my top five links courses in the world.
“I am excited to play and I think the decision to host such a prestigious national open on such a great course is the correct one. Hopefully the weather will behave and we will have a great championship, I can’t wait.”
McIlroy, meanwhile, has been blown away by the response he is receiving from his friends in the golf world and is hopeful that more stars will follow suit in the coming months.
“When I took on the hosting of this event on behalf of my charitable foundation, I was confident I could convince a lot of great players to come and play the Irish Open this year but the response so far has exceeded all of my expectations,” said the four-time Major winner.
“To have Rickie, Sergio, Ernie, Lee, Darren and Graeme, as well as Mikko, already committed by February is incredible and I’m really proud to be involved in what is shaping up to be one of the great events of The European Tour season. Hopefully we’ll have a few more big names to add to that list in the next 100 days.”
More than 80,000 spectators are expected and tens of thousands of tickets have already been sold for the event, which is supported by Tourism Northern Ireland.
www.irishopen.ie. Tickets cost between £30 and £35 per day and families will be delighted to hear that kids under the age of 16 will be admitted FREE as long as they are accompanied by an adult (up to four children are allowed with one paying adult).
Corporate hospitality packages are also available for the event at a cost of £300 + VAT per person. Already sold out on Friday May 29, these exclusive tickets include course admission with reserved grandstand seat on the 18th green, an official programme, reserved VIP parking (for one or two people), and generous hospitality in the Grand Ballroom in the neighbouring Slieve Donard Hotel – including breakfast followed by a Champagne Reception, a buffet lunch served with fine wines, afternoon tea and a complimentary bar.
For more information on the Irish Open 2015 or to purchase tickets, visit www.irishopen.ie For information on accommodation offers and golf in Northern Ireland, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com/irish-open-2015