Gleeson braced for 'brutal' West test at new-look Rosses Point
Harry Colt's County Sligo masterpiece is always a stern test at Easter but the classic Rosses Point links will present a bigger challenge than ever when the West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship gets underway today.
Pat Ruddy has added considerably to the classic Rosses Point links over the past two winters.
Irish Close champion Alex Gleeson - one of the favourites in the 138-strong field alongside Co Sligo's Sean Flanagan and Irish Amateur Open champion Colm Campbell - reckons it now plays a shot or two harder than before.
Several of the changes were in play last year, when high winds forced organiser to scrap the second round, and Flanagan led the qualifiers with a two-over 73.
With the new green extending the par-five third by 51 metres and additional yardage and bunkering at the fifth (41m), eighth (17m) and 10th (41m), plus more fairway bunkering at the 12th and new greenside bunkers around the extended 18th green, it's not for the faint-hearted.
"The changes are really good and the whole course is playing a couple of shots harder," said Gleeson. "With the bunkers around the new third green you are bringing six or seven into the equation. It is the same with a lot of holes. They have definitely toughened it up.
"There are going to be some brutal holes. I'd say the course is harder in that it punishes loose shots. But if you hit good shots you can still shoot a score."
Gleeson, who celebrates his 23rd birthday today, is a long-standing member of County Sligo and while the UCD and Castle star has only managed to get past the first round once in five appearances, his Irish Close win proves he's got matchplay talent.
Flanagan, the leading qualifier for the past two years, is hoping to become the first home winner since Cecil Ewing in 1950 and with notable absentees in world amateur No 50 Stuart Grehan, Tramore's in-form Robin Dawson (recently added to the Walker Cup squad), The Island's Kevin LeBlanc and US-based Paul McBride, Rowan Lester and Conor Purcell, he is hotly fancied.
Veteran Robbie Cannon, former North and Close champion John Ross Galbraith, Irish Amateur Open champion Colm Campbell from Warrenpoint, defending champion Jonathan Yates from Naas and his clubmate Conor O'Rourke, the St Andrews Links Trophy holder, are five to watch.
Elm Park's Charlie Denvir (16), winner at Portmarnock Links recently, or Faldo Series winner Robert Moran from Castle certainly have the talent to make the top 64 qualifiers for Sunday and take down some of the big guns hoping to make Tuesday's final.