Pride of club glory impossible to beat
THE price of glory and a place in GUI history? Anything from €15,000 to €25,000-plus. That covers a campaign for the lucky clubs that embark on inter-club competition in March and end up winning a GUI pennant in the Chartis Cups and Shields finals in September.
Included in that sum are costs of coaching, travel, meals, practice rounds and accommodation for the big five, which are the Irish Senior Cup, Barton Shield, Irish Junior Cup, Jimmy Bruen Shield and Pierce Purcell Shield.
Is it worth it? Treasurers may groan and special fundraising may have to be held, but the answer is, YES.
The emotional scenes in the semi-finals and finals at Castlerock, where the 2011 finals were held, showed how much it means to represent your club.
At Castlerock, Mitchelstown won the Irish Junior Cup, which was the club's first national pennant in 101 years. Did that mean something to the players and supporters? You bet it did.
Claremorris came from Mayo to become Jimmy Bruen champions. Woodstock from Clare won the Pierce Purcell for the second time -- they had previously taken the Shield in 2002.
Portmarnock claimed the Irish Senior Cup, while Warrenpoint, who came to Castlerock as Ulster winners in the Senior Cup, Barton Shield, and Junior Cup, went home as Barton Shield champions and runners-up in the Senior Cup.
Financially, there is an investment to be made, but none of the teams that make it through to national competitions do so without a long-term planning and build-up strategy.
Any club with ambition has its panels working from January -- ready for action in March and April.
Woodstock, for example, is a decent parkland course, but their squad were hard at work from the early stages of 2011 and played lots of practice rounds on the links challenge presented by Doonbeg, Lahinch, and Spanish Point.
When it came to action at Castlerock, the Clare men were primed for action and they got their reward.
Of course, every club put in a big effort in terms of coaching, practice and preparation. Many are called, but few get to play in an All-Ireland final, never mind a provincial decider.
The GUI estimates that 20,000 golfers start out in Cups and Shields each year, and that statistic indicates the level of interest in playing competitive inter-club golf in this country.
Winning one pennant is difficult enough, as Mitchelstown proved by taking 101 years to succeed in a national competition, but all five?
That's a very exclusive category. Since the end of World War II, only Galway and Muskerry, have succeeded in completing a clean sweep of titles.
I have focused on the 1946-2011 era because it incorporates the biggest period of growth in the game here, and also includes the addition of the Pierce Purcell Shield (inaugurated 1970) and Jimmy Bruen Shield (1978) to the national GUI roster of events.
Galway have won the Senior Cup twice (2006, 2009), the Barton Shield four times (1957, '72, '99, '07), the Junior Cup three times (1957, '58, '86), the Bruen Shield in 1980 and '81, and the Pierce Purcell five times ('74, '82, '88, '92, '93) since World War II.
In the same period, Muskerry from Cork have three Senior Cup titles (1946, '47, '53), a Barton Shield (1953), three Junior Cup wins (1954, '62, '07), a Bruen Shield (2007), and two Pierce Purcell Shield victories (1971, '78).
Warrenpoint, for all their formidable competitiveness, have four of the five pennants, lacking only a Jimmy Bruen title.
Sutton, Senior Cup and Barton Shield kingpins of the late '40s and early '50s, need a Pierce Purcell victory to make it five out of five.
Cork GC is another four-out-of-five club. Ironically, they have yet to succeed in the Bruen Shield, named after the legendary Jimmy Bruen who played out of Cork and Muskerry.
Some clubs have impressive records in the elite competitions, but don't cut the mustard in the higher handicap events. Belfast's Shandon Park have a voracious Senior Cup appetite, winning the blue riband event 13 times since 1946, and the Barton Shield on six occasions. They have one Junior Cup title (1952), but have never won the Bruen or Pierce Purcell.
Shandon Park's last Senior Cup and Barton Shield wins were in 2000, when current Tour pro Michael Hoey was a mainstay of the team.
Since '46, Portmarnock have four Senior Cup wins, four Barton Shield, and four Junior Cups and are awaiting first wins in the Bruen and Purcell Shields.
County Sligo (three Senior Cups, four Barton Shields, one Junior Cup), Clandeboye (three Senior Cups, three Barton Shields, one Junior Cups), and Malone (three Senior Cups, two Barton Shields, one Junior Cup) join Portmarnock in having empty space in the trophy cupboard for the Bruen and Purcell Shields.