Rosses Point bared its teeth in no uncertain terms as a tough course set up, exacerbated by an Arctic-like east wind and a sub-zero windchill factor, allowed just 42 players in the 123-strong to break 80 in the opening qualifying round of the West of Ireland Amateur Open.
The scoreboard became the wailing wall for the vast majority of the field as they huddled around in small groups complaining bitterly about pins cut on slopes or tucked away in corners after taking an average of six hours to plot their way around in icy winds that gusted up to 30 mph with the best scores a quintet of three over 74s.
“Ridiculous”, “stupid” and ‘unfair” were just a few of the adjectives flying around. The brilliant sunshine was deceptive and masked “a terrible beauty” as Yeats might have said.
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With Easter falling so early this year - it’s nearly five weeks later next year - conditions were always likely to be tough given that the course is playing hard and fast after three weeks without rain.
Those who argue that it is the same for all have a point, as do those who called for middle-of-the-green pins considering the freezing east wind that was generally behind on the way out and straight into the players’ faces over the last five, punishing holes.
That said, someone always finds a way and while many can justifiably claim that the course set up was on the harsh side, poor course management was also exposed as players insisted on playing aggressively and paid a high price.
Seventeen year old qualifier Charles McGoldrick went out in the first group at 7am when the windchill factor was reported to be close to -13c. Yet he managed to get to the 17th needing a 4-4 finish for an 83 - not bad for a five handicapper.
That he racked up an 11 at penultimate hole, where the pin was in a perilous middle left position, says it all about the difficulty players faced when trying to keep the ball on firm and fast greens in a stiff breeze.
Defending champion Harry Diamond, bidding to become the first player since his close friend Rory McIlroy to successfully defend the title, shot a magnificent three over 74 to top the leaderboard alongside Co Sligo’s Gary McDermott, Headfort’s Rory McNamara, Delgany’s Simon Bryan and Ballyclare’s Ally Purdy.
Yet Diamond was just one over playing the 17th and walked off with a six after hitting what he thought were two great shots to the heart of the green at the uphill, 456-yard par-four.
“I hit a three wood to six feet that rolled back and went 80 yards down the hill into a hole,” said the Belvoir Park man, who had halves of 34 and 40. “The 17th was a stupid pin but I couldn’t hit it any further up the green with my three wood. I had a good chance at the last and lipped out. I played rightly.”
As for his chances of matching pal McIlroy with a successful defence, Diamond said: “I haven’t played much lately and it would be nice to get a bit of sharpness going. But there’s a long, long way to go.”
Home player McDermott came home in a best of the day, one over 36 while 19-year old debutant Purdy showed how the 17th can be played, hitting a 224-yard three wood to four and a half feet for a very rare birdie before dropping a shot at the last.
Still, he too had his tale of woe, missing a two foot putt to double bogey the 13th earlier in the round.
Bryan was three under after five following birdies at the second, third and fifth but bogeyed the seventh and ninth to turn in 35 before coming home in 39 with bogeys at the 11th and 17th and a double bogey six at the 15th.
The leading quintet lead by a stroke from Kilkeel’s William Hanna, newly-crowned Leinster Youths champion Gary Collins from Rosslare and Irish Amateur Open champion Gavin Moynihan from The Island.
Yet even the men who managed to shoot a respectable score were happy with McNamara, who has reached the semi-finals in two of the last three years, summing it all up nicely.
“The course was in great condition but it’s no wonder we play six hour rounds of golf when people can’t keep the ball on the green or get within 30 yards of the flag,” said the Headfort man.
“It was unfair really,” said South of Ireland champion Pat Murray, who felt he had played a lot better than his score of nine over 80. “Downwind the flags were all at the front of greens and you were putting from a long way away if you could manage to hold them. I have never seen scoring like that here. Ever.
“The holes are cut on little slopes, tucked in corners and at the front of greens downwind. You can’t make any birdies out there.”
Galway’s Joe Lyons, the 2007 champion, had a 10 at the third and a nine at the 17th as he struggled to what would have been an 88 had he remembered to sign his card and not been disqualified.
“I spent 45 to 50 minutes waiting on the third tee,” said a shellshocked Lyons before being informed of his error. “With four groups on the tee I was frozen stiff by that stage.”
Tramore’s Alan Thomas, who won last year’s Midlands Scratch Cup at Carlow shot an 84 and added: “It was ridiculous. A joke would be an understatement. The greens are rock hard and the flags are on slopes or hanging off the corners.”
Spanish Amateur Open winner Reeve Whitson carded a 79 and said:
“The course set up was very tough and the pins were in ridiculous place for the way the wind was blowing. If you were in certain places on greens you just had to take your three putt and get out of there. I feel like I have just been beaten up.”
Former Waterford hurling All Star Paul Flynn had a baptism of fire on his debut, shooting an 83.
“Too many double bogeys,” he said ruefully. “I’ll just learn from it - learn not to go above flags or on a certain side of a green. It was tough. You could have a softer introduction but what harm. You have to experience it all. It was a day to learn where to miss and where to be cute.
“It couldn’t have been much tougher. Back tees, tight flags, four club wind…. Very tricky. Let’s see if we can avoid the silly mistakes tomorrow.”
Asked if it was tougher than facing Kilkenny in an All Ireland final, he beamed and said: “It was a slower death anyway.”
Connacht Branch secretary Enda Lonergan defended the set up, explaining that changing pin positions would have been a logistical nightmare.
“I’d ask the players to look at what scores they had last year in round one because they had the exact same pins last year. The wind was from the west last year and from the east this year so it has changed things. I wouldn’t say it is a matter of (getting the set up) right or wrong. You have logistics and administration to do and the players have expectations in terms of what they are going to get on the first tee in the morning in terms of pin sheets.
“I am not clairvoyant and if they want their pin sheets, they have got to take the set up they get and if they are happy not to receive pin sheets, then we can make changes. No player has told me he doesn’t want a pin sheet. The pins were set last Thursday. Play starts at seven and I was here at 5.45 this morning.
“You size things up but if you are to go out and try changing flags and have 125 pin sheets altered, it is just not feasible. It is a balancing act and it may be an insight into the difficulties of being a tournanment administrator.”
The top 64 after today’s second round will make Sunday’s matchplay stage with the cut like to fall at around 20 over par 162, which woudl be the highest for more than decade - at least.
West of Ireland Amateur Open, Co Sligo (Par 71) sponsored by Radisson Blue Hotel and Spa
After 18 holes
74 G McDermott (Co. Sligo), A Purdy (Ballyclare), S Bryan (Delgany), R McNamara (Headfort), H Diamond (Belvoir Park)
75 W Hanna (Kilkeel), G Moynihan (The Island), G Collins (Rosslare)
76 E Smith (Ardee), N Gorey (Muskerry), N Grant (Knock), A Gleeson (Castle), H Featherstone (Ringway(UK))
77 S Healy (Claremorris), S Flanagan (Co. Sligo), S Moran (Carton House), R Bridges (Stackstown), G McKenna (Fortwilliam), M McAlpin (Royal Portrush), K Stack (Dungarvan)
78 R Lester (Hermitage), P McBride (The Island), R Dawson (Faithlegg), J Hume (Rathsallagh), J Leacy (Dungarvan), R Cannon (Balbriggan), A Kearney (Castlerock), J McCormick (Styal(UK)), K McCarthy (Kinsale), E McCormack (Co. Cavan)
79 R O’Donovan (Lucan), S Hogan (Nenagh), D O’Neill (Carton House), T McLarnon (Massereene), J Greene (Carlow), M Killen (Hessle GC (UK)), G Hurley (West Waterford), R Whitson (Mourne), J Yates (Naas), A Wynne (Strandhill), M Sinclair (Knock), C O’Sullivan (Fota Island)
80 B McSweeney (The Royal Dublin), B Casey (Headfort), A Hogan (Newlands), K Lynch (Skibbereen), R Busher (Salisbury & South Wilts(UK)), G McGrane (The Royal Dublin), D McElroy (Ballymena), M Shanahan (Castlemartyr), R Leonard (Banbridge), S McGlynn (Carton House), C Sharvin (Ardglass), K Le Blanc (The Island), S Ryan (The Royal Dublin), P Murray (Limerick), B Best (Rathmore), P Coughlan (Moate), S Watts (Cairndhu)
81 M Morrissey (Mount Wolseley), C O’Rourke (Naas), M Wylie (Quinta da Ria (Esp)), S Cannon (Loughrea), S Ward (Co. Louth), S O’Hara (Co. Sligo), G Lappin (Belvoir Park), S Miskelly (Knock)
82 S O’Connor (Luttrellstown Castle), G Lenehan (Portmarnock), G O’Flaherty (Cork), I Kettyle (Rathmore), C Campbell (Warrenpoint), R Mullarney (Galway), C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown), E Arthurs (Forrest Little), R Kenny (Naas), B Daly (Edmondstown), A Morris (Belvoir Park), I Brennan (Greenore), M Buggy (Castlecomer), J Galbraith (Whitehead)
83 B Anderson (Co. Sligo), S Dwyer (Lucan), P Flynn (Tramore), D Loftus (Castlebar), L McMillan (Carton House), C Fairweather (Knock), S Brady (Co. Sligo), S Barry (Muskerry), G Lawlor (Newbridge)
84 A Thomas (Dungarvan), M Collins (Mahon), L Hutchinson (Royal Dublin), S Carter (Stackstown), R Connolly (Rathsallagh), S McCarthy (Killeen Castle), T Cleary (Dromoland), M O’Rourke (Royal Tara)
85 D Lally (Mullingar), R Gribben (Warrenpoint), M King (Cregmore Park), S Sloman (Taunton & Pickeridge(UK)), E Cradock (Gort), D Callister (Mount Murray (IoM))
86 N Foley (The Island), Q Carew (Edenderry), G Bohill (Co. Louth), E Ryan (Lucan), D McCusker (Moyola Park), S Coulter (Warrenpoint), T Sloman (Taunton & Pickeridge(UK))
87 T O’Connor (Athlone), I Lynch (Rosslare), P McCrudden (Royal Portrush)
88 J McLaughlin (Portumna)
89 S Underwood (Co Sligo)
90 A Harty (Dungarvan), C McGoldrick (Enniscrone)
91 H Coyne (Carton House), J O’Neill (Lee Valley)
92 D Barry (Mahon), C Dullaghan (Greenore)
DQ J Lyons (Galway)
WTD J Hood (Galgorm Castle)