Darren Clarke might be searching for the form that saw him win the 2011 Open Championship but he still found time to put some stars of the future through their paces in Portugal recently.
The Darren Clarke Foundation Champions Weekend, now in its 12th year, took place at the Amendoeira Golf Resort in southern Portugal from 31 October to 2 November with the 18 participants made up of the winners of the National and Provincial Championships at Boys Under 18, Boys Under 15 and Girls Under 18 levels.
This was the first year that the event was hosted outside of Ireland and Clarke was delighted the decision was taken to head for sunny climes.
“While we have had some great events in Portmarnock we have from time to time have had some pretty adverse weather,” Clarke said. “For this reason we decided to take the event to Portugal and we had three glorious days of uninterrupted sunshine with temperatures tipping into the mid-20s.”
Over the three days the invitees had a number of coaching and mentoring sessions with Clarke and were treated to a number of short game clinics by the 2011 Open Champion.
He joined the participants as they played 18 holes on the Christy O’Connor Junior Course on the Thursday followed by 18 holes on the Par 3 Academy Course on Friday morning and then a final round of 18 holes on the O’Connor Course on Friday afternoon.
The scoring was exceptional. On the first day Paul McBride of The Island, the Ulster Boys Champion led the way in the under 18 section with an outstanding six-under par 66 to open up a five-shot lead over Munster Boys Champion Rowan Lester of Hermitage and six over Irish Boys champion, Robin Dawson from Faithlegg.
In the Boys under 15s, England’s Marco Penge, the Irish Boys under 16 champion shot a superb two-under par 70 and in the Girls Section, the Munster Girls Champion Olivia Mehaffey shot 73 and Mary Doyle, the Mid-Leinster Girls Champions posted a 74 to leave things close going into the final day.
Including the 18 holes on the Academy Course as part of the tournament itself was a popular choice with the players. The holes ranged from 55 yards to 110 yards with great greens, bunkers and water hazards
Lester shot an outstanding, nine under par 45 for the par-54 Course as Dawson shot eight under and both Mary Doyle and Julie McCarthy posted five-under par 49s.
The leaders went out last for the final round and the under 18s developed into a battle between McBride, Dawson and Lester. In the end, Dawson shot 67 and McBride a 69 to leave them tied on 13 under par.
In the play-off both players birdied the first extra hole and in semi-darkness Dawson birdied the second extra hole to claim the title.
In the Boys under 15s, Penge shot an outstanding 4 under par 68 to finish well ahead. Mary Doyle succeeded in the girls, shooting a final round 74 to pip Olivia Mehaffey by a single shot.
On the Saturday morning the participants worked with Clarke and Seamus Duffy on their short game and long game and that afternoon played a betterball event which was won by Olivia Mehaffey, Kevin Le Blanc and Alan Fahy with a score of 62.
Darren Clarke Foundation weekend, Portugal
PAR 72 PAR 54 PAR 72 54 Hole Total Par 198
Mary Doyle 74 49 74 197
Olivia Mehaffey 73 53 72 198
Niamh Ward 79 58 77 214
Julie McCarthy 85 49 82 216
Shannon Burke 82 55 81 218
Niamh McSherry 82 62 76 220
Ariana Coyle Diaz 79 58 83 220
Robin Dawson 72 46 67 185**
Paul McBride 66 50 69 185
Rowan Lester 71 45 72 188
Jordan Hood 75 52 72 199
Eoin Leonard 76 51 76 203
Marco Penge 70 50 68 188
Kevin Le Blanc 76 56 70 202
Owen Crooks 74 50 79 203
Mark Power 74 53 84 211
Alan Fahy 78 50 84 212
Peter Cummins 80 65 87 232