Alan Dunbar will be at the first stage of the Qualifying School next week. Picture by Pat CashmanBritish Amateur champion Alan Dunbar is amongst the 39 Irish players who will begin their lonely quest for a golden ticket to the European Tour through the gruelling Qualifying School later this month.

While he’s still an amateur and likely to remain so until after the Masters at least, he’s one of 35 Irishmen to enter Stage One, which begins next week.

But the Rathmore man knows well that past achievements and reputations will count for nothing when he tees it up at Wychwood Park near Crewe on September 18, hoping to finish among the top 25 who will make it through to join the exempt Noel Fox (medical), Brendan McCarroll and Gareth Shaw (Alps Tour Top 6) at one of four Second Stage venues in Spain next month.

Even if the 2011 Walker Cup star makes it that far - his former Ireland team mate Paul Cutler fell at the first hurdle last year - he need only ask some of the Q-School veterans amongst the Irish contingent how tough it is to make it through to the Final Stage at PGA Catalunya.

Just four Irishmen made it to last year’s finals in Girona and none of them made the 72-hole cut. In fact, all four - Johnnie Caldwell, David Higgins, Cian McNamara and Chris Devlin - are back at Stage One again this year.

While the top 20 on the Challenge Tour rankings earn European Tour cards, few manage to keep them. Yet there are still feelgood stories at Q-School every year with Branden Grace the pick of the graduating class of 2011.

The South African finished tied for 11th on 14 under after six gruelling rounds at PGA Catalunya Resort last December.

He was a respectable 307th in the world when he missed the cut in his first tour start at the Alfred Dunhill Championship the following week but in the New Year he went on a winning spree that will give every Q-School entrant hope that dreams really do come true.

Grace won the Joburg Open and the Volvo Golf champions in back-to-back weeks in January to break into the world’s top 100. Then in April he captured the Volvo China Open by three shots from Ryder Cup rookie Nicolas Colsaerts.

Belgian Colsaerts won his card when he turned professional thre days after his 18th birthday and won the fifth card at the 2000 Q-School finals, becoming the second youngest player to achieve that feat. He made another five unsuccessful trips to various stages of the School before eventually getting bac on tour through the Challenge Tour rankings.

Grace has gone on to play in three majors and a couple of World Golf Championships, famously partnering Tiger Woods at the Bridestone Invitational in Akron.

So far this year, he’s earned €1.4m, which is not a bad return for a Q-School entry fee of €1,700.00 (or the sterling equivalent of £1,350).

Here’s hoping an Irishman has bought a winning ticket for this year’s Tour card lottery. Lady Luck will play her part but fortunately for these intrepid sportsment, skill and nerve counts for more.

September 11-14

First Qualifying Stage Section A

The Roxburghe Hotel & Golf Course, Kelso, Scotland

  1. Damian MOONEY Ballyliffin GC
  2. Mark MURPHY
  3. Peter O’KEEFFE Muskerry GC
  4. Mark STAUNTON Ballinasloe GC

September 18-21

First Qualifying Stage Section B

Wychwood Park, Crewe, England

  1. Nick BRENNAN Bowood
  2. Jonathan CALDWELL Clandeboye GC
  3. Cian CURLEY Team Ireland
  4. Paul CUTLER Portstewart
  5. Alan DUNBAR (AM) Rathmore GC
  6. Graeme DUNLEA Adare Manor H&GR
  7. Donal GLEESON Old Conna Golf Club
  8. David HIGGINS Waterville Golf Links
  9. David P JONES Bushfoot GC
  10. Matt MCALPINE (AM) Royal Portrush
  11. Barrie TRAINOR Mayobridge GC

September 18-21

First Qualifying Stage Section B

Golf & Country Club Fleesensee, Göhren-Lebbin, Germany

  1. Shane FRANKLIN Ireland
  2. Stephen GRANT The Heritage
  3. Niall KEARNEY Royal Dublin

September 25-28

First Qualifying Stage Section C

Golf d’Hardelot, Hardelot, France

  1. Michael COLLINS Mallow Golf Range
  2. Cian MCNAMARA Limerick GC
  3. Neil O’BRIAIN Royal Dublin GC
  4. Tim RICE Limerick GC

October 2-5

First Qualifying Stage Section D

Ribagolfe, Lisbon, Portugal

  1. Alan GLYNN Red Golf Management
  2. Andrew HOGAN (AM) Newlands GC
  3. Richard KILPATRICK Banbridge GC
  4. Dara LERNIHAN Team Ireland Golf
  5. Michael McGEADY McCambridge Duffy
  6. Colm MORIARTY Glasson Golf Hotel & CC
  7. Glen ROBINSON St Helens Bay GC

October 2-5

First Qualifying Stage Section D

Frilford Heath GC, Frilford, England

  1. Brian CASEY (AM) Headfort GC
  2. Chris DEVLIN Team Ireland
  3. John-Daniel GUINEY    Ballybunion GC
  4. Mike KELLY
  5. Ruaidhri MCGEE Golf 525 Murcia
  6. David RAWLUK The Island GC

November 7-10    

Second Qualifying Stage

Irish exempt - Noel Fox, Brendan McCarroll, Gareth Shaw, *Simon Thornton (*can still become exempt for final stage)

  • Campo de Golf El Saler, Valencia, Spain
  • Las Colinas Golf & Country Club, Alicante, Spain
  • El Valle Golf Resort, Murcia, Spain
  • Lumine Golf & Beach Club, Tarragona, Spain

November 24-29    

Final Qualifying Stage

Irish exempt - Simon Thornton*

  • PGA Catalunya Resort,Girona,Spain

European Tour Qualifying School Entry Form