Like the 46A bus to Dun Laoghaire, which would take an age to come and then arrive with another stuck to its exhaust pipe, there are signs that things are about to start moving apace in Irish golf.
At least, that’s what we sense from yesterday’s official confirmation that Tetrarch Capital’s Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort in Carlow will host first European Challenge Tour event in the Republic of Ireland six years from October 8–11.
Thanks to the owners of Mount Wolseley, and more importantly Mount Juliet in Co Kilkenny, the efforts of the Confederation of Golf in Ireland and the Irish Sports Council have borne fruit and the “Irish Challenge hosted by Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort” will be staged at the Christy O’Connor Jnr designed venue for the next three years.
As Michael McElligott, Chief Executive of Tetrarch Capital, said: “We also look forward to working closely with the Challenge Tour through our hosting of this very exciting tournament again in 2016 and 2017.”
Hosting Challenge Tour events is a precursor to bigger things and it’s no secret that Tetrarch Capital is investing well in excess of €10 million in bringing Mount Juliet back up to scratch with a new members’ clubhouse, new maintenance equipment and buggies.
The presence of Paul McGinley’s right hand man David Brookes on the board of the club is a clear message of intent. And the investment there is also a clear sign that after the economic collapse of 2008—9, Ireland is slowly recovering.
Nobody bankrolls a Challenge Tour event without one eye on a bigger picture and With The K Club in the driving seat when it comes to hosting the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open next year and with the event going to Lough Erne in Fermanagh in 2017, Tetrarch Captial’s support for an annual €180,000 event at Mount Wolseley puts it at the top of the queue to host an Irish Open sooner rather than later.
For now, Mount Juliet are playing their cards close to their chest but when asked about potential Irish Open interest, the reply smacked of classic Jim Hacker in "Yes, Minister."
“We are investing heavily in upgrading the Hunters Yard complex and golf facilities to support the superb Jack Nicklaus designed course at Mount Juliet," a Tetrarch spokesman said in a statement.
"We have no plans for hosting a flagship golf event at Mount Juliet as our focus is entirely on the redevelopment, but if such an opportunity presented itself in the medium to long term, we may consider it.”
The 2018 Irish Open appears an obvious objective and the push to revitalise the Challenge Tour south of border is certainly hugely important for the future of Irish professional golf when it comes to nurturing young talent.
Thanks to the impetus of the club and local business, The Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle near Ballymena has become one of the highlights of the Challenge Tour schedule.
But in order for our young players to receive a useful number of tournament invitations, it was crucial that the Republic of Ireland based Challenge Tour event was revived following the demise of the Challenge of Ireland after the 2009 staging at Moyvalley in Co Kildare.
Hosting a Challenge Tour events guarantees players from that country reciprocal invitations in Challenge Tour events around the country and with the likes of Paul Dunne and Gavin Moynihan certain to turn professional in time for the Mount Wolseley tournament, the timing is perfect.
The Challenge Tour mention several other top amateurs in the press release, which is an indication that potential Walker Cup players Jack Hume, Gary Hurley and Cormac Sharvin are also contemplating a move into the pro ranks to join up and coming talent like Derry’s Ruaidhri McGee and Lurgan’s Gareth Shaw as well as Moyola Park’s Chris Selfridge, who has finished in the top 20 in his first two starts since turning professional at the end of May.
The position of the Irish Challenge on the Challenge Tour schedule — it’s four events before the season-ending NBO Golf Classic Grand Final in Oman — guarantees a top field at Mount Wolseley, which hosted a PGA Europro tournament last August, The Walk in My Shoes Open, which had a prize fund of just €54,000.
Redmond O’Donoghue, Chairman of the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI), put the importance of the event to our young players into perspective explaining that it "will provide Team Ireland players with vital tournament exposure and opportunities to gain full playing rights on the Challenge and European Tours.
“Securing Tour starts for up and coming professional golfers is a crucial cog in the CGI’s High Performance Programme, which aims to build on the excellent High Performance Programmes for amateur players administered by the Golfing Union of Ireland and the Irish Ladies Golf Union.”
It’s also good if you want to get into bed with the European Tour.
Ireland could have six on Walker Cup team says Dunne
Greystones’ Paul Dunne believes Ireland can realistically hope to get six players on the 10-man Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup side to face the Americans at Royal Lytham and St Annes in September.
Dunne is a leading candidate having finished an impressive fifth in the individual strokeplay event in the NCAA Division 1 Championship in Florida last week.
But he sees no reason why a handful of his Irish team mates can’t make the side too and given their form in recent months, captain Nigel Edwards could have the biggest Irish contingent in the history of the matches with Gavin Moynihan and Gary Hurley looking certain, Cormac Sharvin contending every week and Jack Hume and Dermot McElroy high up in the Welshman’s estimation.
“I think it is is a pretty realistic goal for all of us,” Dunne said before jetting home from the US for the last time after graduating from the University of Alabama Birmingham. “Obviously I think we all want to make it and we are all focussing on playing well to make the team.
“I think if you asked any of the six of us now if we think we should be on the team, I think we would all say yes. We all have a lot of confidence in our own games.”
Dunne says he’s turning pro and heading for Q-School, whatever the Walker Cup selectors decide.
Given that the current Irish team is the most talented since Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry’s 2007 outfit, the future looks bright for all of them.
Best of British
Stephanie Meadow ended a 27-year wait for an Irish win she captured the Ladies' British Open Amateur Championship at Carnoustie in 2012.
She was the first Irish winner since Lilian Behan won at Ganton in 1985 but given the talent in Ireland these days, we’re due another win when the championship takes place at Portstewart this week.
While May Hezlet, three times and Rhona Adair, twice, capture five titles between 1899 and 1907, Ireland had to wait 44 years for another win when Catherine (Kitty) MacCann (nee Smye) beat Frances Stephens 4 and 3 at Broadstone in the 1951 final.
While the great Philomena Garvey won at Gleneagles in 1957 and reached the 1960 and 1963 finals, an Irish golfer would not win again until Maureen Madill won at Nairn in 1979 and was succeeded in 1985 by the great Behan.
Now, Irish hopes are high again with the championship taking place over the 6,262 yard Strand Course at Portstewart and an 11-strong entry headed by world No 1 and 2015 ANNIKA Award winner Leona Maguire from Slieve Russell and Royal County Down Ladies’ Olivia Mehaffey.
Leona was instrumental in Duke University’s run to the semi-finals of the NCAA Championship last month while Mehaffey won three individual titles in a row — the Irish Girls, Scottish Ladies and the Welsh Ladies titles in successive weeks
Both were named in the GB&I Vagliano Team to face the continent of Europe at Malone Golf Club later this month and they will be keen to show why they are feared competitors.
Huge Irish contingent for British Amateur
When Padraig Harrington won The Open at Carnoustie in 2007 and became the first Irishman to win lift the Claret Jug in triumph for 60 years, he was watched by an 18-year old Rory McIlroy clutching the silver medal.
Fast forward eight years and a host of young Irish players who were in short trousers that summer will be hoping to achieve Ireland’s 10th success in next week’s British Amateur Championship at Carnoustie and Panmure.
Just seven Irish golfers have won the title that gives the champion a place in the Masters, the Open and the US Open — Joe Carr (three times, 1953-58-60), Jimmy Bruen (1946), Sam McCready (1949), Garth McGimpsey (1985), Michael Hoey (2001), Brian McElhinney (2005) and Alan Dunbar (2012).
But this year we will have no fewer than 19 men in the field and several of them have a serious chance of success:
Sean Flanagan (Co Sligo), Daniel Holland (Castle), Paul Dunne (Greystones), Stuart Grehan (Tullamore), Gavin Moynihan (The Island), Robin Dawson (Faithlegg), Alex Gleeson (Castle), Jack Hume (Naas), Paul McBride (The Island), Gareth Lappin (Belvoir Park), Cormac Sharvin (Ardglass), Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock), Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint), Kevin LeBlanc (The Island), Conor O’Rourke (Naas), Alexander Wilson (Portmarnock), Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Richard Bridges (Stackstown) and John-Ross Galbraith (Whitehead).
Everyone will have their favourites but Galbraith, the reigning Irish Amateur Close champion who finished a fine third in the St Andrews Links Trophy on Sunday, could be a dark horse to watch.
Strangely, there will be no challenge from West Waterford’s Gary Hurley, who accepted the invitation to represent Europe in the clashing Palmer Cup match with the US at Rich Harvest Farms, west of Chicago.