Major changes to West of Ireland Championship conditions
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Sweeping changes have been made to the qualifying process for April's season-opening West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at County Sligo.

In a progressive move, the Championship committee has doubled the number of places up for grabs from the new 18-hole pre-qualifying event from three to six, increased the gap between tee-times from nine to 11 minutes and eliminated the Reserve List for the championship proper.

Due to last year's early date and the subsequent lack of daylight, an 18-hole strokeplay qualifier was introduced for the first time in 2013 in order to reduce the field size for 36-hole qualifying to 123. 

Headfort's Rory McNamara receiving the West of Ireland Championship trophy in 2013. (L-R): Michael Connaughton (Chairman Connacht GUI), Seamus Preston (General Manager Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Sligo), Rory McNamara (Headfort), Ivor McCandless (President GUI) and Terry Brady (Captain Co. Sligo GC).

Headfort's Rory McNamara receiving the West of Ireland Championship trophy in 2013. (L-R): Michael Connaughton (Chairman Connacht GUI), Seamus Preston (General Manager Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Sligo), Rory McNamara (Headfort), Ivor McCandless (President GUI) and Terry Brady (Captain Co. Sligo GC).

While this year's Championship set to run from April 16 compared to March 27 last year, the starting field for 2014 will be 126.

The strokeplay qualifier will again take place on Wednesday but instead of offering just three automatic places in Good Friday's first qualifying round, there will now be six spots on offer.

But there's more good news for those who enter the qualifier with the elimination of the traditional championship Reserve List, which was used to replace withdrawals in handicap order.

With up to five players traditionally withdrawing for personal reasons every year, they will now be replaced by the players finishing beyond sixth place in the Wednesday qualifier. A reserve list will, however, remain in operation for the 18-hole qualifier.

Tournament Director Enda Lonergan writes: "It's quite likely that more players than the six prescribed in the conditions shall get through to Good Friday’s opening round. The competition for entry places for the 2014 ‘Qualifier’ may be much greater than in 2013."

The handicap cut off for the top 120 entries fell at 0.0 last year but in another change to the Championship Conditions, past champions within 1.0 strokes of the handicap cut off mark for the Championship will only be exempt into the Wednesday qualifier and not the Championship proper.

"Finally," Mr Lonergan writes, "in recognition of the achievement of some Junior Golfers in both the Championship and the Qualifier in 2013 the Committee have introduced an Exemption Clause granting up to three Connacht based U18 Players who are within 1.0 strokes of the cut off handicap mark entry into the ‘Qualifier’ should they fail to get under the handicap cut off mark for the ‘Qualifier’ itself."

Last year's 36-hole strokeplay qualifying phase was not a great success with frost delays, a sub-zero wind chill factor and a tough course set up leading to an excruciating pace of play for players and officials.

Just 42 players in the 123-strong field broke 80 in the first round with some groups taking up to six hours to tackle the famed Rosses Point links.

As a result,  the Championship Committee has approved a move from nine to 11-minute timesheet intervals following the success of that format in Union Championships in 2013.

Online Entry for the event will open on February 10 at gui.ie/connacht

Entries will close on Wednesday, March 19th at 17.00hrs.