Epic road-trip sees Irish women make it to Spain

As the volcanic ash cloud continues to cause havoc with the world’s air travel, Ireland’s team for this week’s Comunitat Valenciana European Cup have been forced into some extraordinary travel arrangements in order to ensure they are in Alicante for Thursday’s opening day.

Dublin’s Hazel Kavanagh and Carlow’s Rebecca Coakley had planned to fly to the south east of Spain to represent Ireland in the international team event but as flights were cancelled left, right and centre the pair had to ditch Plan A and switch to a hastily-arranged Plan B.

Visits to Holyhead, Dover and Boulogne were followed by a road-trip across the length of France and Spain before they arrived at the host resort of La Sella.

The Irish pair are not the only ones to have their travel plans thrown into disarray this week. The Dutch duo of Christel Boeljon and Marjet van der Graaff have driven the length of continental Europe in order to defend the title they won 12 months ago, and the English pair of Karen Stupples and Melissa Reid drove the 1500 miles to Alicante in order to participate.

After going through all that the Irish pair insist they aren’t there just to make up the numbers.

“I really believe we can win. I know Rebecca very well and we are great friends, which is a huge advantage in a week where we work as a team.” Kavanagh, a member of the 1995 Vagliano Trophy team, said.

 “I played with Rebecca in the World Cup in South Africa and we got on great there so it will be great working together from the practise rounds, to the pro-am and then teeing it up for four days.”

Australian-born Coakley, who celebrates her birthday on the final day of the tournament, is equally bullish about their chances this week, she said: “I’m really looking forward to playing. It’s great to play as a team because this is something that doesn’t happen much in professional golf.

“I have known Hazel for a good few years and she is a good friend. I think our games are going to be well suited. I rate our chances as good as any other team competing.”

The tournament opens on Thursday with each pair playing better-ball fourball before it switches to a modified greensome format on Friday before the same sequence is repeated for the weekend.

Despite the possible absence of Women’s British Open champion Catriona Matthew due to travel problems, the field still boasts names such as Karrie Webb, Sophie Gustafson, Meg Mallon and Iben Tinning.

After finishes of 13th and 10th for Ireland in the last two years the close friends will be hoping to improve on that record , and Kavanagh is relishing a return to team play.

“I cannot wait for it to start. I really miss team golf since turning pro and it was a goal for me last year to make the team. So since I was confirmed to play from the order of merit last year it has been a great build up.

“I feel great and have worked on my fitness over the winter. I went down to Australia for a month to get some tournament practise with cards in my hand and since then I have changed the shafts in my irons, since the new groove rule, so with the new irons for the Nations Cup I feel very confident.”

“I absolutely thrive on team golf. I still even miss playing for my home club Grange. I am very patriotic so to be teeing it up for Ireland with such a great field is fantastic.”