One of the great strengths of The European Tour is its ability to embrace both old and new elements of golf and that aspect is highlighted perfectly again this week when the Nissan Irish Open – one of the oldest established tournaments in Europe – takes place on one of the newest courses in the country.
Carton House Golf Club at Maynooth in Co. Kildare will play host to the event for first time on ‘The Montgomerie’ course, a lay-out designed by seven time European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie and one which the Scot admitted he was extremely proud of.
“Under normal circumstances I would be a bit worried about facing 155 critics,” said Montgomerie. “But this is not a normal golf course and I don’t think I will have one critic out there - I will go there with my head held high.
“It is a brilliant golf course and I look forward to seeing what Europe’s best can do there. Whether I play poorly or whether I play well, I am going to enjoy the week and I look forward to talking to the other players about the course and seeing what they feel about it.”
Montgomerie also paid tribute to the help he received on the project from European Golf Design and in particular from design partner Stan Eby, whom he worked with most closely over the many trips he made to Ireland.
“Stan has been helping a few of us over the years as to what is right and wrong and how our concepts can be put into practice and he is just a fantastic guy to work with,” he said.
Eby said: “Colin wanted to develop his own design style, particularly with the bunkering. In his view, bunkers are a hazard to be avoided and if the player does not do so, he can and should expect to be punished.
“This is especially true on ‘The Montgomerie’ where the bunkers are deep, imposing and unforgiving, and on the greens you must always try to get on the right side of the hole or you will be faced with a difficult putt. I enjoyed working on the project tremendously and I know Colin is incredibly proud of the course.”
Defending champion in Ireland will be Australian Brett Rumford who completed a memorable four shot victory at Co Louth Golf Club last July, a final round 67 seeing off the challenge of respective runners-up Padraig Harrington and Raphaël Jacquelin.
Mention of Harrington is appropriate for the current World Number Nine will spearhead the home challenge alongside Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Paul McGinley.
Last home winner of the title was John O’Leary at Portmarnock in 1982 and the large and knowledgeable galleries who will flock to Carton House in their thousands will be hoping that one of the illustrious quartet above can end the 23 year drought.
As well as a strong Irish challenge, there are also a number of former champions in action, all hopeful of adding their name once again to the Roll of Honour.
Included in that number is charismatic Spaniard José Maria Olazábal, one of European golf’s iconic figures and a winner of the Irish Open at Portmarnock in 1990, when he held off a strong and cosmopolitan chasing pack which included the then Open Champion, American Mark Calcavecchia and New Zealand’s Frank Nobilo.
Olazábal very nearly added a second Irish Open title three years later but was pipped by Nick Faldo in a play-off at Mount Juliet, and the two time Masters Champion would like nothing more than to win again in Ireland to register his 23rd European Tour International Schedule title.
Olazábal will come to Europe on a wave of confidence after some excellent early season form on the US PGA Tour which has seen him finish in the top ten on four of his last six outings.
Dating back to the 17th Century, Carton House was formerly the ancestral home of the Fitzgerald family, Earls of Kildare. It is set within a 1000 acre walled estate, some 30 minutes to the north west of Dublin.
It has already been widely praised and lauded in golfing publications the world over, including Golf World naming it the Best New Course of 2004 and Golf Digest in the United States naming it one of the ten best courses in Ireland.