Scintillating Slade Valley trio prove too hot to handle
GOLF was never meant to be easy, but it was made to look that way by Slade Valley trio John Hicks, Nuala Fagan and Sean Noonan at a sun-splashed Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links on Monday.
Club captain John, Lady captain Nuala and vice-captain Sean combined to scintillating effect over the Bernhard Langer-designed seaside course, scoring an unbeatable 84 points.
It was a remarkable performance, especially considering their regular game is on the parkland layout at Slade Valley. John, Nuala and Sean were the first team into action in the first qualifying event of the 2010 Irish Independent Executive Golf Trophy, and they led from the front of the field.
"Normally when you come to a links all you can see is rough in front on you," said John. "But out here I must say the fairways were in fantastic condition. We finished the 18 holes as if we hadn't gone out at all."
Interesting to note that the course, with the greens quick and tricky, proved a lot more testing for most of the other teams, with the bunkers accounting for the hopes of many an ambitious three-ball. Slade Valley's team had nines of 43 and 41 on the two-to-count stableford points format and finished strongly with six points on each of the last two holes.
They now can look forward to the national final to be played at the K Club on Thursday, September 2, and will be joined by the other three qualifiers from Monday -- Rathsallagh (81 points), Carton House (75 points), and County Louth (74 points).
Rathsallagh were represented by captain Rory MacMahon, Lady captain Miriam Solan, and competition secretary Padraic McMahon -- and they came through to qualify in fine style.
There wasn't much drama for the team from Dunlavin, Co Wicklow, as their display was the epitome of steady scoring. Out in 41 points, back in 40, job done. Captain Rory commented: "Our scores were fairly evenly spread between the three of us and we all scored well. It was just a delight to be here. This is a lovely course. It's a pleasure to come to a course where there's run on the ball."
In stark contrast to Slade Valley and Rathsallagh, the Carton House team earned their slot at the K Club the hard way. An outward nine of 30 points was definitely not what captain Tom McAndrew, Lady captain Terry Wynne and honorary secretary John Kelly had hoped to achieve when they teed off.
Clearly a rethink was required, and on the 10th tee a call to arms was made by Tom. "Let's just say stern words were spoken at half-time. I kicked their ass -- then I kicked my own!
"Once we got off to a good start on the back nine, we were on our way, and we kept that momentum going to get 45 points on the back nine," he said. What a change in fortunes. Perhaps it helped that Tom has previous experience on playing for Carton House in this event, which is invitation only and confined to the captain, Lady captain and an honorary officer of a club.
"I played in it a few years ago as honorary secretary, but we didn't do much that year. Then last year I was vice-captain and we had a better day," he said modestly. A 'better day' indeed, as Tom -- aided by 2009 captain Sean McNamara and Lady captain Maura Bruton -- topped the qualifying teams in last year's event at the links with a winning score of 86 points.
They then took home some Waterford Crystal in the final by claiming third place, so McAndrew will hope his team can get into the prizes next September.
The representatives of the renowned County Louth stood proudly as the only links course team to qualify.
Take a bow captain Niall Crimmins, Lady captain Anne Walsh and honorary secretary Ricky Morgan. It was a close-run contest for that fourth spot, as County Louth needed a back-six countback to edge out the Curragh (Seamus Rothwell, Maggy McElroy and Gerry Maher) after both teams finished on 74 points.
Niall Crimmins, captain of the Baltray team, reckoned that, for all their efforts, the turning point was not a birdie, not a par, but a double-bogey scored by Ricky Morgan. The captain secured a par for three points on the par-four 12th hole, but said: "Ricky got a great point with a six there. It probably made the difference in the end."
Morgan was twice in bunkers on that hole, but got it up and down from the second sand shot to claim his point. It proved crucial as County Louth and the Curragh had the same finishing total, and similar nines of 36, 38, so the countback was required to separate them.
Portmarnock Links Director of Golf Moira Cassidy welcomed the guests on behalf of the host venue, and Allianz Claims Director Anthony Shannon responded on behalf of the co-sponsors.
Credit to the officers of all the participating clubs; their members can be proud of the way they were represented. In terms of dress code, good humour and enthusiastic participation, the club officers were exemplary. May they all balance their budgets and keep the members happy throughout their year!
84 points -- SLADE VALLEY (John Hicks 21, Nuala Fagan 19, Sean Noonan 9).
81 points -- RATHSALLAGH (Rory MacMahon 18, Miriam Solan 34, Padraic McMahon 10).
75 points -- CARTON HOUSE (Tom McAndrew 17, Terry Wynne 25, John Kelly 6).
74 points -- COUNTY LOUTH (Niall Crimmins 5, Anne Walsh 24, Ricky Morgan 8) on back 6.
74 points -- CURRAGH (Seamus Rothwell, Maggy McElroy, Gerry Maher).