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29 Jun 2022

What’s new on the Horizon for the 2022 Irish Open in Kilkenny?

As the excitement builds, Siobhan Donohoe takes a trip to Mount Juliet to see how things are faring on and off the course

What’s new on the Horizon for the 2022 Irish Open?

With the course in pristine condition, Mount Juliet is all set to host the 2022 Horizon Irish Open

The atmosphere is electric at Mount Juliet as the last of the preparations for the Horizon Irish Open take centre stage.

With a field of top class international golfers ready to hit the fairways from June 30 to July 3, there’s time for one final groom of the Estate. With the purse of €3 million to play for, competition will be fierce among the 156 world class golfers who make up the playing field.

Mount Juliet General Manager Mark Dunne and his entire team have certainly pulled out all the stops this year. We caught up with them this week to see what lessons they learned from last year’s Open, when they had just over a month to prepare. This year’s tournament is looking very different with lots of treats in store for spectators and golfers on the 500 acre Estate.

Mark Dunne, General Manager of Mount Juliet Estate

When people ask Mark Dunne what it will be like this year, his response is simple: “It will just be so much fun,” he said. “Last year we were test event number seven for reopening the country and we were very conscious of that. Everything we had in our plans to make it a spectacular event had to be taken away, yet it was hugely successful. From a test event perspective, it was well received, and it was nice to be part of returning to sport.

“Last year we did it in six weeks, from start to finish,” he added. “Even though the atmosphere here this year is different, we all feel a lot happier with the work all completed, this time last year was a lot more frantic!

“This year it’s not the case,” he continued. “From Wednesday right through to Sunday it’s going to be so really good. It’s not the same tournament at all, everything has changed. You’ll see it from arrival at the welcome tent to all the way through, everything is different, because we have had more time.”

The Mount Juliet and European Tour team are bringing the party back to golf with a week of entertainment for the whole family. After the Pro-Am on Wednesday, the ever popular Toploader will take to the stage to entertain the crowd - no doubt we will be Dancing in the Moonlight too!

Limerick band Hermitage Green will kick off the weekend with a performance on Saturday, July 2. Taking to the main stage on Sunday July 3 is 17-year-old Cork singer Allie Sherlock. Both acts will take to the stage as soon as the final putt drops each evening.

Siobhan O’Sullivan, Director of Sales & Marketing

With 5,000 spectators a day permitted last year and no hospitality allowed, what will this year’s Mount Juliet Estate look like with up to 18,000 visitors every day and what is on offer for them.

“The village is at least a third bigger in size this year, the festival atmosphere will be amazing, and we can celebrate more,” said Siobhan O’Sullivan, Director of Sales & Marketing on the Estate. There will be free park and ride from Stoneyford and Thomastown and paid shuttle buses to and from Kilkenny.

“Wednesday is always a good day for the family and not just for golfers, because there are some celebrities around,” she explained. “The whole tournament will be a lot more relaxed with more food areas in various locations around the Estate. In the Festival Village, there are the festival beer tents and pop ups from Taste Kilkenny and Golf Ireland, with various interaction tents.

“We’ll also have Sky Sports TV back and this year NBC Golf is joining us too, so the eyes of the world will be on us. It’s putting us back on the map for being one of the top Parkland courses in the world.

“It will be a couple of years before we have the Open in the South-East again, so it would be nice to have Seamus Power from the South East win at Mount Juliet. However, Lucas Herbert is coming back to retain his title - so watch this space!”

Matt Sandercock, Director of Golf

While the golf course is now closed to members that doesn’t mean it’s all quiet. The first competition is on Monday and Tuesday, with the new look G4D (Golf for the Disabled) Tour. This 10-person event in Mount Juliet is behind closed doors.

On Wednesday, it’s Pro-Am Day - one of my favourite days from last year’s tournament.

“There’s a bit of a change around this year, as the amateurs will get to play with two professional golfers,” explained Sandercock. “They will have a pro for nine holes and a different pro for the next nine holes, so it will be a different team dynamic and fantastic as they get to play with two of the world’s best players.”

Sponsors and members also play the Pro-Am, making up the field with celebs including golfer Leonia Maguire, former Ireland and Manchester United footballer John O’Shea, actor James Nesbitt, rugby star Rob Kearney, Olympian Greg O’Shea, former Galway hurler Joe Canning and three-time Derby-winning Jockey Johnny Murtagh, along with world number one Disability Golfer Brendan Lawlor, and popular Today FM broadcaster Dermot Whelan, with more names to be revealed.

They will join Irish golf heroes Shane Lowry, Pádraig Harrington and Séamus Power on the pristine fairways at the Kilkenny venue, in the traditional curtain-raiser for the main event.

Speaking of the main event, I quizzed Matt Sandercock for his top pro picks for the tournament. Matt and his fellow pro golfers at Mount Juliet Golf Club – Sean Cotter and Chris Blackmore already have their hit list picked.

“I’m going with Thomas Peters, Sean has Tyrrell Hatton and Chris went for Ryan Fox,” he said. “For our wildcard picks, Chris went for Marus Armitage while I’ll be putting my power behind Kilkenny’s Mark Power.

“The course is in great condition,” he added. “Martin Lehane and his greenkeeping team stepped it up from the learnings of last year. We have narrowed some of the fairways in and we have the rough deeper. The greens technically look smaller because we made the roughs deeper around them. The lake is cleared out so that’s more intimidating!”

That course info could be good news for Ireland’s Seamus Power.

“Seamus Power is one to watch too,” added Sandercock. “Irish Golf could do with him to win, it would be a good boost for the game. Seamus’s game suits here, a US based game with the ball in the air and a great driver of the golf ball. He could do really well; our course will suit him.”

Martin Lehane, Head Groundskeeper

Head Groundskeeper, Martin Lehane has a lot of ground to cover for the Horizon Irish Open. When asked how tough this year’s course is, he smiled and said, “It’s slightly tough, but not overly!

“We made a few improvements and cleaned up a few areas,” he said. “There’s an impressive logo of the Mount Juliet pheasant set on the hill on the 14th Hole. The lake on the 18th Hole has been cleaned out, which makes it more playable when the golfers come up to the final hole. If they end up in there, it will be in the water now and not like before ending up in the rough, where it used to be a bit of a swampy area.”

With 4.30am starts it’s a busy week ahead for the groundskeepers and greenkeepers team of 27 staff, looking after 300 acres of golf course, on top of the gardens.

Last year there were less grandstands and marquees to get around and the weather was on their side. The team are all currently praying for rain, as the grounds are getting a bit too dry, so the sprinklers are in action.

Martin also shared some good tips on the best viewing points:

“With this year back to full capacity, it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” he said. “The best viewing point in my opinion is the stand at the 17th Hole. From there you have a bird’s eye view of the 16th, 17th, 18th and first Holes.”

Details on parking, travel and the public shuttle service to the tournament are available from www.europeantour.com. Tickets are still available for Wednesday, June 29 to Friday, July 1 from experiences.dpworldtour.com/irish-open

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