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Feb 12th, 2016

Rory seeks Irish Open inspiration

From the Waste Management Phoenix Open

Rory at last year's Irish Open. Hands out of your pockets young man!

The Waste Management Phoenix Open absolutely nailed it last weekend. And this is where Rory has been looking for inspiration for the Irish Open, which he will again host this year.

Over 600,000 people attended the event in Scottsdale, Arizona, which only has a population of 217,000. Everyone wants a bit of the action, and are cleared prepared to travel to be part of it.

One person making the trip, and coming rather further than most of the spectators, was Barry Funston, who is CEO of Rory’s charity foundation.

Meet Barry Funston - CEO of Rory's Foundation. Time to up the anti. And could you get your hands out of your pockets as well please Barry?

He went with the express intention of meeting with the Thunderbirds, who are responsible for distributing the considerable sums of money that the event raises for charity – some $9 million last year, so 2016 is going to be a bumper year for local good causes, which specifically “assist children and families, help people in need and improve the quality of life in our communities.”

But we hope he has also taken in the wider experience, and find a way of bringing that to the Irish Open. They already seem to have taken notice of the Waste Management’s pricing. An adult day ticket is €30; the Pro-am is €10, which sounds a bit more like it.

We know Rory is very committed to the Irish Open. He told the Guardian; “My commitment to making the Irish Open as successful as it can possibly be is well known. If we can learn anything at all from such a huge event on the PGA Tour, that can only be a good thing. I was delighted the foundation was given the chance to learn more about what has made Phoenix so popular.”

The Irish Open was a sell out last year at Royal County Down, so they are already doing something right, and Rory will, of course, be the major draw – as will the players he can hopefully bring in. 107,000 attended in 2015, so this is still massively dwarfed by the Phoenix Open.

Soren Kjeldson of Denmark putts on the 18th green on the final day for victory. Please note that he doesn't have his hands in his pockets.

He’s trying to galvanize support from golf clubs across Ireland, which is again a good way to go. This should be an annual day out for every Irish golfer. But it still has some way to go to become that.

We’d quite like to have the Waste Management Phoenix Open experience combined with that of the races at Cheltenham - a big social and sporting event that you just have to go to. A place you know you're going to have an amazing time, both on and off the course.

And if his foundation can benefit and show a clear mission as to what it is doing with the cash it raises, then all the better. At the moment we know that it is focused on helping children in poverty in the UK, but he probably needs to put a bit more flesh on this bone. What’s it doing differently from Children in Need, we would ask? It's a bit biege at the moment. We all want to help children, but why is this different?

This year the prize fund will be €4 million, up from €1.5 million, so again everything is moving in the right direction. But if you asked whether or not this is an event that people from far and wide would travel to, then the answer would have to be no. 

It is still a step up from many of the European Tour events, which are sparsely attended, and have no sense of theatre. There are too many events which appear to be done according to the same template. They struggle to communicate any individuality or personality, and it can become a wall of blandness. They have got to get way more creative, fun and interesting to stop making themselves look like TV wallpaper.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to make the Irish Open into a must go event, both in Ireland and the wider UK. But we’d love to see that happen. It still needs some more magic. Ampitheatre anyone? And does it need to have one home, rather than being a travelling circus? 

We're good at this stuff. If anyone needs a hand, you know where you can find us.

For more on The Thunderbirds click here or on the image below.

TAGS: News, 2016, Rory McIlroy, Waste Management, Irish Open, Phoenix Open, Rory