Golf fans in this region may get the chance to see Cavan sensations Leona and Lisa Maguire in action in an international professional event in their home county following Slieve Russell Golf and Country Club's link-up with the PGA.
The 300-acre Ballyconnell resort was this morning unveiled as PGA National Ireland, becoming only the eighth PGA National designated resort in the world., a highly prestigious accolade which is expected to greatly elevate the status of what is regarded as "a hidden gem" in the golfing world.
The parties have agreed a 10-year link-up, part of which entails the Slieve Russell hosting a national PGA tournament, with a Ladies European Tour event or a European Seniors Tour event - or possibly both - already pencilled in as possibilities.
"We have discussed it with the PGA, there is a strong possibility of getting some events here," confirmed Slieve Russell General Manager Tony Walker.
"I think we will see that, possibly in two to three years. We would love to host an Irish Ladies Open and that is something we would definitely consider. We could have Lisa and Leona playing in it, that would be ideal."
Slieve Russell Head PGA Professional/Golf Manager Gordon Smyth believes there is an excellent chance of a major event coming to the venue in the short to medium term with an ambition to host the Solheim Cup (the female equivalent of the Ryder Cup) there in the long term.
"It's totally realistic," Smyth told The Anglo-Celt.
"With what Lisa and Leona have done in the ladies game already, no Irish female professional has gone to their heights in such a short period of time. They are a huge asset for the European Tour, they are superstars and the Tour know that. The fact that they're from Cavan and they're lifelong members here, with us having this accreditation now, I think it makes [Slieve Russell hosting a LET event] an easy fit for them.
"We talked about Solheim earlier, that's the dream at the end of it but in order to hoist a Solheim Cup, they will probably request that we host a ladies European Tour event first to try things out from a logistical point of view.
"With them being homegrown players, I believe you'd get the government backing. They are the new superstars of Irish ladies golf and with the 20-20 project, 'if she can't see, she can't be', that has grown the profile of ladies sport in general and is very positive. I couldn't see it not working."
The golf course itself is ideally suited to such an event, he said.
"The course lends itself to a ladies length golf course, we can set it up anyway we want it. The course is ready to go. Off the back tees, it's 7000 yards. It has hosted Challenge Tour events in the past but maybe with technology now, it wouldn't be able to host an Irish Open - or maybe it could - but as length goes, for a Senior European tour or a top ladies event, it's perfect - perfect length, all the facilities, the practice grounds and so on are in place.
"Part of our contract with the PGA is that we are going to be offered a national PGA tournament and one of their scheduled ones is a European Tour senior event, which is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the PGA. That's their big flagship event, we have put our name in the hat and we would want to have that. The likes of Montgomerie, Langer and people like that have played in that."
The designation is recognition not just of the highly acclaimed 18-hole championship course, regarded as one of Ireland’s best parkland courses, but also of the quality of the facilities, which include the luxurious 222-bedroom hotel, state of the art conference centre, golf academy including a par three course and adventure golf facility as well as its award-winning spa facilities.
The PGA National Ireland designation follows a period of sustained strategic investment by Slieve Russell to grow its business not just on the island of Ireland but also internationally. The strategy has seen the property carry out a major investment plan in recent years to upgrade both the golf course and the many other facilities that has seen Slieve Russell establish itself as one of Ireland’s leading hotel, golf and country club resorts.
These include on-going improvements to the greens, tees, fairways and bunkers as well as the development of the Golf Academy to include state of the art video equipment allowing for detailed swing analysis. There has been a total overhaul of the now state of the art banqueting, conference and event facilities and a major upgrade of the Ciuin Spa, with further investment in the pipeline.
Business is going very well, with the golf course playing a key role, stated Walker.
"We are doing very well, business is very strong and forward bookings are very strong for the summer.
"Golf is very important, it's one of the key strands we have in the hotel of our overall business. It helps other spend in terms of accommodation and food and beverage as well on the back of people coming to play and stay. It's a wonderful facility and we want people to come and play it and experience it and enjoy it. The link-up with the PGA was a piece in the jigsaw. This was a perfect fit for us."
The club will now seek to increase its green fees business nationwide while also focusing on international visitors. A Bord Fáilte representative this morning made the point that Ballyconnell is halfway between Dublin and some of the top courses in Donegal, the profile of which have been boosted by the successful hosting of last year's Irish Open at Ballyliffin.
Walker pointed out that while American golf tourists tend to be drawn towards links courses, there is a huge appeite among tourists from the UK and mainland Europe for high quality parkland courses.
"The Americans often have a bucket list, they want to play Lahinch and Ballybunion and places like that. Of course we do welcome lots of American visitors here but we are looking towards Europe. There are 650,000 golfers in Germany as an example and they love their parkland golf, and the Scandinavians as well.
"They are the key opportunities that we would see. Getting more international golfers to come to Cavan and to this region in general."
PGA chief executive, Robert Maxfield, added: “We are delighted to welcome Slieve Russell to our exceptional list of PGA Branded Properties. The PGA National-Ireland further strengthens The PGA brand’s reputation internationally and we look forward to promoting Slieve Russell to both PGA Members and golfers across the globe.”
* See next week's print issue for more.