Scotland’s Graeme Robertson may have had a hole-in-one in a 69 to grab a one-shot lead but the Golfing Union of Ireland was the big winner after the opening round of the Irish Amateur Open at a windswept Royal Dublin.
Winds gusting up to 30mph would normally have led to an avalanche of complaints about the set up of a championship course. Traditionally, officials have conceded little to the field in terms of relief from the tyranny of the back tees on a course where the back nine has just one par-five and a driveable par-four and yet still measures close to 4,000 yards.
But given a series of unfortunate experiences in recent years where strong winds have sent scores soaring into the high eighties and well beyond, the GUI took steps to keep the course within the realms of sanity by pushing up 13 tees, reducing the 7,249 yard monster by 419 yards. The pace of play was brisk with 11-minute intervals between groups instead of the usual eight-minutes.
(Click here for detailed scoreboard - click on round score for details)
Click here for the photo gallery
As a result, 10 players broke par in an average time of 4 hours and 33 minutes, headed by 26-year-old Scotland international Robertson, who holed a five iron for an ace at the 160 yard 12th — where the tee was moved up 51 yards — en route to a three under 69 and a one-stroke lead over Balbriggan’s Robbie Cannon and Castlerock’s Aaron Kearney.
“I really have to congratulate the GUI because the got it spot on today,” said 34-year old former South of Ireland champion Cannon, who narrowly missed from eight feet for birdie at the 18th and a share of the lead in the last match on the course.
“They set up the course fantastically well because some of the par fours would have been par fives if they hadn’t put the tees forward so they definitely deserve a pat on the back for that today.”
On the European Tour they push up tees to add to the enterainment level for spectators. In the amateur game the decision not only sped up play, it made the championship more enjoyable for the 120-strong field of amateurs, most of whom have no ambitions to play professional golf.
Despite the poor attendance from golf fans, there was plenty to cheer about. Leader Robertson, a 26-year old Eisenhower Cup player, reduced the downwind second to a drive an eight iron to set up an eagle three from eight feet.
By day’s end he had another eagle to match it, holing in one for the first time in his life at the 160-yard 12th.
“To be honest, I didn’t watch it,” Robertson said. “It was 160 with wind in from the right and I hit a little five iron. I saw it pitch on the green and went to my bag, thinking it’s a good shot. Then I just heard the other guys cheering. I was pretty happy. It was great to do it in a competition.”
Birdies at the fourth, ninth and 17th came with concessions to par at the seventh, 11th and 18th but the Scot was happy with his effort and the course set up.
“The course set up was really well because we played the course yesterday and we couldn’t reach some of the holes on the back nine into the wind,” he said. “So the GUI has done a good job. It was great and the greens are really good as well.”
Casual spectator Shane Lowry, who had suffered many gruelling days in this championship, was pleasantly surprised by the set up. So too was Kearney, who was delighted with his 70.
“Every year here it’s been an absolute slog of a golf course but it’s much more friendly this year,” said the 26-year old former international.
Reigning South of Ireland champion Pat Murray, who was one of a host of player to criticise an overly exactly set-up in poor weather in this year’s West of Ireland qualifying rounds, was happy to give credit where credit was due.
He shot a 71 that left him tied for fourth alongside last week’s Lytham Trophy runner up Jack Hume, Knock’s Nicky Grant, Claremorris’ Stephen Healy, Portmarnock’s James Fox, England’s Jamie Rutherford and Co. Louth’s Gareth Bohill.
“I have complained enough over the years but I have to give the GUI their due today, you couldn’t fault the set up and I am sure you will hear a lot of that,” Murray said. “The 17th was 54 yards forward today and I still hit a driver and a four iron. You don’t want to hear guys saying they played really well to break 80. You want to have a chance to play some golf.”
Rathsallagh talent Hume, an impressive runner up in last week’s Lytham Trophy, gave a pair of watching Walker Cup selectors another reason to seriously consider him for a spot in the side to face the Americans when he birdied three of the last four holes in the worst of the wind for a 71 to keep the leaders in his sights.
The 19-year old, who won all four Boys provincial titles in 2010, had a remarkable round featuring eight birdies, seven bogeys and just three pars.
“It was a bit of a crazy round,” said the 19-year old, who birdied the 15th, 16th and 18th. “Eight birdies and seven bogeys - it was a bit mad. I dropped a lot of careless shots, made two bad bogeys on the par-fives coming home from short distances.
“But I played pretty nicely and the course set up was a lot fairer than in previous years. It’s a good start. If the weather stays like this, I will be in good shape.”
Defending champion Gavin Moynihan, who has played little golf this year as he prepares for his Leaving Cert and a move to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa on a golf scholarship, had to rely on his short game to limit the damage to a four over 76.
“There was a lot of rusty out there,” said the talented 18-year old from The Island. “It was my first round of golf for a while. I could have shot anything today but scrambled really well considering I haven’t been practicising for three or four weeks.
“I turned an 82 into a 76 so I am happy enough with it.”
Special mention must also go to Moynihan’s 15 year old club mate Kevin Le Blanc, who shot a one over 73 with three bogeys and a double bogey on his card, to finish the day tied for 17th with the likes of England’s Neil Raymond and Headfort’s Rory McNamara, the reigning North and West of Ireland champion.
Irish Amateur Open, Royal Dublin (Par 72, CSS 75)
69 G Robertson (Scotland)
70 A Kearney (Castlerock), R Cannon (Balbriggan)
71 J Hume (Rathsallagh), N Grant (Knock), S Healy (Claremorris), P Murray (Limerick), J Fox (Portmarnock), J Rutherford (England), G Bohill (Co. Louth)
72 R Dawson (Faithlegg), C O’Neill (Scotland), C Campbell (Warrenpoint), J McDonald (Scotland), M Kippen (England), C Sharvin (Ardglass)
73 N Raymond (England), K Le Blanc (The Island), S Moran (Carton House), R Bridges (Stackstown), R McNamara (Headfort)
74 K Holmes (England), T McLarnon (Massereene), G McDermott (Co. Sligo), S O’Hara (Co. Sligo), E Smith (Ardee), S Grehan (Tullamore), P McBride (The Island), B Casey (Headfort), A Hogan (Newlands), A Dunton (Scotland), S Binning (Scotland)
75 W Jones (Wales), J Savage (Scotland), M Morrissey (Mount Wolseley), E Scott (Scotland), E O’Keeffe (Corrstown), R Connolly (Rathsallagh), M McAlpin (Royal Portrush), N Henderson (Scotland), T Bakker (Finland)
76 G Lenehan (Portmarnock), G Moynihan (The Island), C Fairweather (Knock), R Arnorsson (Iceland), M Shanahan (Castlemartyr), M Gaspar (Portugal), R O’Donovan (Lucan), N Kimsey (England), H Diamond (Belvoir Park), D McElroy (Ballymena), C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown), G McGrane (The Royal Dublin), J Greene (Carlow)
77 S Ward (Co. Louth), P Spraggs (England), J Hendrick (Scotland), M Clark (Scotland), G Lawlor (Newbridge), P Coughlan (Moate), S O’Connor (Luttrellstown Castle), J Shufflebotham (Wales), G Lappin (Belvoir Park), G Stevenson (Scotland), J White (Scotland)
78 L Ruuska (Finland), B Daly (Edmondstown), K Lynch (Skibbereen/NUIM), M Sinclair (Knock), P Kelly (England), B Best (Rathmore), R Gardarsson (Iceland), S Borrowman (Scotland), C Doran (Banbridge)
79 K McCarthy (Kinsale), C McKenna (Mallow), D Holland (Castle), S Flanagan (Co. Sligo), D O’Donovan (Muskerry), E Arthurs (Forrest Little), J Kukkonen (Finland), A Culverwell (Scotland), A Purdy (Ballyclare), S McGlynn (Carton House), G Pinto (Portugal), L Sandvoll (Norway), S Ryan (The Royal Dublin)
80 R Lester (Hermitage), S Davidson (Italy), C Drumm (Rosslare), J Lyons (Galway), R Bell (Scotland), D Barry (Mahon), F McKenna (Scotland), G McKenna (Fortwilliam), J Sugrue (Mallow), D O’Neill (Carton House), J Yates (Naas), R Whitson (Mourne)
81 A Verschaeren (Luxembourg), M Killen (England), S Walsh (Portmarnock), H Coyne (Carton House), W Hanna (Kilkeel), G Collins (Rosslare), J Ross (Scotland)
82 M Kane (Whitehead), S Hogan (Nenagh), I Brennan (Greenore), T Toivonen (Finland), S Bryan (Delgany)
83 N Foley (The Island), L McMillan (Carton House), G Costa (Portugal), M Pennycott (Scotland), J Carlota (Portugal)
84 I Lynch (Rosslare)
85 J Arnoy (Norway), S Carter (Stackstown/NUIM)
88 S Dwyer (Lucan)