The AIB Irish Amateur Open Championship has attracted a record 91 overseas players from seventeen countries.
The biggest overseas contingent will come from France, which has 35 entrants, followed by Scotland (19), England (14), Finland (4), Wales (3), Belgium (2), Denmark (2), Norway (2) and Turkey (2).
Australia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden have one entrant each at The Royal Dublin Golf Club from 9-11 May .
The cut-off for the field of 120 fell at plus 1.5 with seven players on plus 1.5, decided by ballot, being included. In fact such is the quality of the entry that there are 33 plus one handicappers on the waiting list.
Lloyd Saltman, having turned professional following the Walker Cup in 2007, is unable to defend his title but his brother Zack is one of a very strong Scottish entry which also includes the lowest handicappers in the field Kevin McAlpine (+4.9) and Callum Macauley (+4.8).
A feature of this year’s event is the large entry from France following the decision of the French Golf Federation to nominate the Irish Amateur Open as an event to be targeted by their elite amateur golfers. A total of 48 entries were received from the French Federation with 35 gaining entry to the field.
Included amongst the 29 Irish players in the field are six who qualify under a condition of the event which provides that any Irish entrant under the age of 21 on 1st January who having entered, and reached the match play stages of the West of Ireland Championship, gains a place in the field.
They are: Kelan McDonagh (Athlone), Steven Webster (Castle), James Monaghan (The Island), Michael Durcan (Co Sligo), Paul Cutler (Portstewart) and Brendan Walton (The Island). It is the second year in succession that the latter named two, Cutler and Walton, have qualified under this rule and both players performed admirably in 2007 at Royal Dublin – comfortably making the half-way cut.
Billy Andrews, General Manager AIB said: “We are delighted to be associated with the Irish Amateur Open - a Championship that is now ranked amongst the leading Amateur Championships in the world. We are looking forward to what will certainly be an exciting and fantastic event on one of Ireland’s finest links at Royal Dublin”.
The Irish Amateur Open Championship was first played in 1892 and was held every year, with the exception of the War Years, up to 1959. Former champions in that era included Joe Carr (three times), Jimmy Bruen, Tom Craddock, Cecil Ewing, John Burke and Norman Drew.
The event was revived in 1995 when Padraig Harrington triumphed at Fota Island. Keith Nolan was the winner at the same venue in 1996 and ’97.
The event moved to Royal Dublin in 1998 where Michael Hoey was victorious. Gary Cullen won in 1999, Noel Fox in 2000 and 2003, Richard McEvoy (England) in 2001 and Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) in 2002.
The event was held at Carton House in 2004 and 2005 with Craig Smith (Wales) and Richie Ramsay (Scotland) the respective winners, while in 2006 Finland’s Annti Ahokas triumphed at Portmarnock before Lloyd Saltman’s victory when the Championship returned to Royal Dublin last year after a period of three years during which time major changes were carried out on the links by the highly respected course architect, Martin Hawtree.