Reasons to be cheerful
THE New Year is creeping its way forward as we happily leave 2010 in the rear view mirror, so it's timely to look ahead to a packed season of golf at home and abroad.
This little country of ours punches way above its weight in international golf circles, but while we will watch the performance of our Tour stars with great interest, there's plenty of action for all handicap levels at home.
Here are 10 reasons to be cheerful as we look forward to another golfing year:
1. TV golf
Yes, the game is back on screen after a break of, what, three weeks? Seems like a lifetime. If we are still to shiver in Ireland, then we can at least watch the big boys play in (hopefully) good weather in Africa and Hawaii this week.
2. The Irish on Tour
Irish pros look certain to give us a run for our money with G-Mac and Rory Mc ready to rock and roll -- and play a bit of golf in between!
3. The Tiger
Tiger's back and in form. We look to the 14-times Major champion on the golf course and not to the man who blazed a trail through the nubile ladies on the (night) clubbing circuit. He showed how much he wants to win by his shock at McDowell's edging him out of top spot at the Chevron Classic. If that spurs him on, then Tiger will entertain us on the golf course once again.
4. Padraig Harrington
A mystery wrapped up in an enigma for some, but for the rest of us, he is simply Ireland's greatest golfer. The man has three Major titles and if his career finished today, it would still be a great, great career. He'll be 40 on August 31, but age is just a number. It will be fascinating to see Padraig hauling himself back into contention for regular Tour events and Majors on Sundays.
5. The Solheim Cup
Europe v USA, and the elite of women golfers on the two Tours will be at Killeen Castle in Meath next September to contest this great prize. A great chance for Irish fans to see the cream of the LPGA on our shores, and the organisers will do everything they can to make it a family-friendly event.
6. dark horses
All eyes may be on McDowell, Harrington and McIlroy but there are a number of Irish players out there who can come out of left field and win Tour events. Gareth Maybin, Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie, Michael Hoey, and Shane Lowry -- once he gets his hand injury sorted -- are capable of tournament victories. And don't forget the oul' fellas Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley, who still have the ambition to win again.
7. Green fees
There is plenty of value out there in Ireland for the home and tourist market. This country has an abundance of top-quality golf courses and prices and deals to suit any pocket.
8. The Irish Open at Killarney
August weekend is going to be a bit special thanks to the commitment of the European Tour and Failte Ireland, who are making sure the event goes ahead.
9. The Ladies Open at Killeen Castle
It's coming up just after the men's Irish Open, and the crowds who attended last year's event really enjoyed themselves. With the Solheim Cup to be played a few weeks later, the Ladies Open will be an ideal opportunity to check out some of the stars who will be in action against the USA.
10. Golf Classics
A great way to play some fine courses in competition and meet new friends. A new kid on the block is the 'Great Irish Links Challenge' featuring Doonbeg, Lahinch and Ballybunion (May 22-25). The North West region has events over the top links courses, including the Donegal Links Classic (May 30-June 1) and I'm delighted to see that Tony Boland is tournament director of the 19th Dunmore East Classic (May 3-6). His late dad Charlie was a great character and had a huge role to play in making the Classic an ever-popular event.
100 years and counting
A special group of five clubs will celebrate their Centenary Year in 2011. They are Ardee, Boyle, Cliftonville, Clonmel, and Tandragee.