Poppleton takes advantage of defenceless Royal County Down
 Nicholas Poppleton (Wath) driving at the first tee during the first round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club (11/05/2017). Picture by  Pat Cashman

Nicholas Poppleton (Wath) driving at the first tee during the first round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club (11/05/2017). Picture by Pat Cashman

Idyllic conditions helped enormously but the 144-man field was still thrilled not to be tortured by a draconian course set up that marred the Lytham Trophy as 13 players broke par in the opening round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open at a fiery Royal County Down.

With no more than a zephyr breeze wafting across the Newcastle links from the southeast, 23-year old Rotherham native Nicholas Poppleton made six birdies in a four-under par 67 to lead by a stroke from 21-year old compatriot Matthew Jordan from Royal Liverpool and 19-year old South African talent Kyle McClatchie.

McClatchie, who has won six times in South Africa in the past 12 months, might have been forgiven for thinking he was at his home club, Serengeti, as he plotted his way around a bone draw Newcastle in three-under 68.

"It's the first tournament I have been to in amateur golf where the set it up as fair as they can," said Poppleton, who birdied the fourth, ninth, 12th and 13th and made up for bogeys at the par-three seventh and 14th holes with two-putt birdies from just off the green at the 16th and 18th. 

"We played Lytham last week, and every tee box was on the back and it was just brutal. People don't want to watch that. They want to watch somebody play some good golf.

"It's a shame, but at most amateur golf tournaments, people think it's a slog. They are scared of someone beating their golf course."

Poppleton's round would have raised a smile from Pete Cowen, who employs the affable Wath player at his Peter Cowen Golf Academy, sadly under threat if plans to reopen a nearby waste pit get the go ahead.

The Englishman, last year's Westwood Trophy winner, made his debut in the Lytham Trophy last week, hanging on for dear life from the back tees to shoot rounds of 77 and 80 to miss the cut,

 Jack McDonnell (Forrest Little) driving during the opening day of the  Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Jack McDonnell (Forrest Little) driving during the opening day of the  Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

But while the GUI's Championships Manager, Mark Wehrly, shortened the links by 157 yards yesterday, it still presented a fair and challenging test for the elite field of 7,029 yards.

Forrest Little's Jack McDonnell was playing the course blind but the 22-year old reigning Munster Youths champion could rue only a brace of three-putt bogeys as he shot a two under 69 to lead the home challenge with Galway's Joe Lyons, Douglas' Peter O'Keeffe and Portmarnock's James Fox — three experienced men — a shot further back after fine 70s.

Cautious approach play usually pays dividends at the Newcastle links but when asked the key to his score, McDonnell said: "Not knowing where to go!"

Smiling, the reigning Munster Youths champion added: "It was a hit and hope. So I hit the driver everywhere, hit it well and just played for the front of greens all day and let it run up."

That ploy did not work for many and it was interesting to see so many experienced players near the top of the leaderboard,

Eddie McCormack and Mark Morrissey (another player who played the course blind) shot level par 71s to share 14th with Tramore's Robin Dawson whose fellow Walker Cup panellists Alex Gleeson from Castle and Naas' Conor O'Rourke battled for one over 72s while British Amateur champion Scott Gregory signed for a 75

 Kyle McClatchie (Serengeti) driving at the first tee during the first round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Kyle McClatchie (Serengeti) driving at the first tee during the first round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

Dawson was one of the many to suffer at Royal Lytham & St Annes and didn't sound in a hurry to return to the Lancashire venue any time soon

"Last week in Lytham, where it was miserable, really grounded me," said the Tramore man, who made up for going out of bounds to take six at the first with birdies at the last two holes for a level par 71. "It's not what we are geared for and not what I want to be playing."

As for thoughts of making the Walker Cup team — he's one of six Irishmen in the 21-man panel — he vowed not to let making the team consume him.

"The Walker Cup is just another competition," he said. "The European Tour is what we all want to play and the Walker Cup would be a nice stepping stone, but I will try not to let it affect me.

"I have seen too many players in the past affected by it so am doing my own thing and concentrating on what I have to do."

O'Keeffe, a 35-year old former professional, has been enjoying his golf since his return to the amateur fold last year, and he resisted the temptation to hit the driver and used all his experience to plot his way to a one-under-par opening round and share eighth place.

“Patience,” O’Keeffe said. "It's something you learn as you get older. I only used the driver twice and hit a lot of two and three irons because there is nothing to be gained. It is too fiery. 

"It was all about good pace putting and hitting it in the right spots. But even with no wind it is still difficult."

Defending champion Colm Campbell, the other Irish Walker Cup hopeful in action, appears to be going through a tough patch in terms of confidence and had a disappointing 79 while his playing partners also had their troubles.

 Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) waiting to drive at the first tee during the opening day of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. (11/05/2017). Picture by  Pat Cashman

Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) waiting to drive at the first tee during the opening day of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. (11/05/2017). Picture by Pat Cashman

Scotland's Connor Syme, the world No 8, had a poor finish for a 74 while American Stewart Hagestad, the leading amateur at last month's Masters, started eagle-birdie but ran up a quadruple bogey eight at the ninth en route to a two-over 73.

With no more than a wedge to the green on a hole that had been shortened by 55 yards to improve the pace of play, he missed the green right in a swale but duffed his attempted dunt into the bank and it kicked into a bunker. 

He took three more to get out and two putted for his quadruple bogey.

"I had it going pretty well, but I think I am still playing the ninth hole,' Hagestad said. "It wasn't very good."

"Eagle on 1, birdie 2. Three putt on four. Birdie 7. Missed six-footer on eight. On nine I was in the left rough and had a wedge in and a lot of that is course knowledge. If you miss left rather than to the right, you are okay.. I just hit a terrible chip. 

"Generally, I hit it well and managed my game well. I made a mistake where it should have been bogey at worse and I three-putted twice. If I make bogey with a wedge in hand from the rough on nine, it's one under." 

Instead, it's two over and that's before the wind gets up and the rain starts to fall.

Players took just over four and a half hour to get round but the GUI will be encouraging players to play "Ready Golf" today.

 Sean Ryan (The Royal Dublin) driving at the first tee during the first round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. Picture by  Pat Cashman

Sean Ryan (The Royal Dublin) driving at the first tee during the first round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. Picture by Pat Cashman

Flogas Irish Amateur Open. Royal County Down (Par 71)

Round 1:

67 N Poppleton (Wath)

68 K McClatchie (Serengeti); M Jordan (Royal Liverpool)

69 T Sloman (Taunton & Pickeridge); S Towndrow (Southport & Ainsdale); J McDonnell (Forrest Little); G Petrozzi (Trentham)

70 J Lyons (Galway); P O’Keeffe (Douglas); J Fox (Portmarnock); L Johnston (Dumfries and County); R Foley (Lausanne ); B Gill (Lindrick)

71 H Byers (Walton Heath); R Dawson (Tramore); H Bernard (Laval Sur-le-Lac); T Plumb (Sherborne); A James (Laval Sur-le-Lac); J Hilleard (Farrington Park); C Fairweather (Knock); E McIntosh (Turnhouse); L Shepherd (Rye); E McCormack (Galway Bay); G Bloor (Cavendish); M Morrissey (Co. Sligo)

72 O Percy-Smith (Furesø); C Rafferty (Dundalk); C O'Rourke (Naas); L Matthews (Southerndown ); T O'Connor (Athlone); M Norton (Belvoir Park); A Gleeson  (Castle); C Raymond (Newlands); L Brown (Muriwai); R Geissler (St. Leon-Rot); A Venter (Silverlakes); J Freiburghaus (Domat/Ems); C Consul (Duesseldorfer); M Harris (St Mellons); J Skov Olesen (Naestved); J Wilson (Balmore); G Rank (Elmira); G Frimodt (Odense Eventyr); S Broholt Lind (Odder Golf)

73 J Galbraith (Whitehead); J McMahon (Wallasey); C Howie (Peebles); C Farr (Priors Hall); S Bleakley (Shandon Park); A Hickey (Ballyhaunis); D Goldstein (Noyac); S Hagestad (Deepdale); J Bolton (Ogbourne Downs); H Young-alls (Notts); G Lappin (Belvoir Park); C MacLean (Balmore); D Boote (Walton Heath); T Harris (Castletown); C Thornton (Fulford); C Ross (Kirkhill); T Randolph (Arcola); C Unger (St. Leon-Rot)

74 J Nicholas (Westchester Country Club); M Schmitt (Rheinhessen); D Dougan (Drumpelier); E Griffith (Conwy); J Pierse (Portmarnock); C Syme (Drumoig); T Vahlenkamp (Berliner Stolper Heide); L Donnelly (Kilkenny); M Nolan (Delgany); I O’Rourke (The Royal Dublin); G Lenehan (Portmarnock); R Brazill (Naas)

75 J Glenn  (Brancepeth Castle); S Gregory (Corhampton); S Coulter (Warrenpoint); J Murphy (Kinsale); C Long (Burton); C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown); T Mulligan (Laytown & Bettystown); J Burnage (Saunton); C Boon (Oubaai); W Small (Tandragee); M Power (Kilkenny); P Coughlan (Moate); K LeBlanc (The Island); M Schmid (Herzogenaurach); S Carter (The Royal Dublin)

76 R Haije (Goyer); W Russell (Clandeboye); A McCormack (Castletroy); M Howard (The Royal Birkdale); B Chamberlain (Padeswood and Buckley); G Collins (Rosslare); J Long (Lansdown); T Cline (The Tuxedo); T Gandy  (Rowany); M Waite (Filton); A Harper  (Bolton OldLinks); M Saulez (Durban); N Crawford (Mourne); C Strickland (Ham Manor); J Seaman (Wrag Barn); J Stokes (La Moye); H Goddard (Hanbury Manor); T Collins (Dun Laoghaire)

77 J Hapgood (Southerndown); R Pierse (Grange); G McDermott (Carton House); C Butler (Kinsale); B Best (Rathmore); R Dutton (Tandragee); M Zillekens (Niederrheinischer); J Brady (Rosslare); K Harman (Southerndown); D Foy (Laytown & Bettystown); B Jones (Northamptonshire county); G Dunne (Co. Louth)

78 D Brophy (Castleknock); A Grant (Dundalk); J Sundborg (Shanklin & Sandown); M Ryan (New Ross); N Bachem (Marienburger); M Reid (Galgorm Castle)

79 A McDougall (Elderslie); C Campbell (Warrenpoint); E Leonard (Wentworth); M Boegel (St. Leon- Rot); T Beasley (Hunstanton); T McLarnon (Massereene)

80 J Whelan (Newlands); T Dolan (Heswall); R Neergaard-Petersen (Furesø); B Dietzel (Essen-Heidhausen); R Moran  (Castle); M Hutson (Muriwai); S Hamilton (Notts); J Sugrue (Mallow)

81 H Foley (The Royal Dublin); T Junak (GC Main-Taunus)

82 J Trinder (Pymble); B Komline (Black Oak)

DQ S Ryan (The Royal Dublin)