Slieve Russell edge out Milltown in close contest
The 2016 Allianz-Irish Independent Officer Golf Challenge marked the 21st consecutive staging of this unique event with the traditional opening qualifier by the seaside at Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links.
Wonder of wonders, the bright sunshine and moderate winds which blessed the Portmarnock landscape set the scene for an enjoyable day's golf as the teams comprising captain, lady captain, and an honorary officer competed for the four qualifying places.
Our guests played the Bernhard Langer-designed Links at an opportune time, as the owners, Kennedy Wilson Europe Real Estate Plc, have invested almost €1 million in course improvements.
The four-star hotel, based around the original house on the site which was the home of the world-renowned Jameson family of Irish whiskey fame, is currently undergoing an extensive upgrade costing around €5 million.
This includes the refurbishment of 90 bedrooms, the creation of new meeting and conference facilities, a new spa and gym, an upgrade of its Seaview Lounge, an extension of its main restaurant and a new entrance and car park.
Changing times indeed for the Links, which opened in 1995.
A year later, in 1996, our Officer Golf Challenge, the brainchild of event organiser Cecil Whelan, started its first season, and the Links agreed to host the first qualifier in the series.
Moira Cassidy, the Director of Golf, has been at the hub of the golf operation at the Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links since it opened its doors and has been a great friend to this event.
As always, the emphasis was on a relaxed level of competitive golf, with places in the final at The K Club, our esteemed final venue, up for grabs.
In that respect, it came down to a very close verdict between Slieve Russell and Milltown for the top finishing spot.
Both teams finished on 81 points, and only a better back nine score of 42 points edged the Ballyconnell club ahead of second-placed Milltown.
Slieve Russell's team was captain, George Donohoe, lady captain Martina Gorby, and vice-captain/hon treasurer Brendan Neligan.
A two-tee system was in operation for the event, with the teams starting off either the first or the eighth tee due to the layout of the Links. George (10) and Brendan (11) have played the course reasonably regularly over the last few years, but Martina (20) had never played there before.
Nines of 39-42 displayed an admirable level of consistency, and Brendan's two birdies on the par-five sixth and 13th holes left him with good memories.
Captain George said: "We're very happy to win this event. We've had a great day, and I would like to thank Allianz and Irish Independent for their sponsorship. We just came here to enjoy ourselves and it's a bonus to be going home with these lovely prizes."
Milltown's captain Peter MacCann plays off 9, and the hon treasurer, John O'Grady has an 11 handicap.
Lady captain Barbara Cotter (24) dovetailed very effectively with her playing partners, and the outcome was nines of 40-41, an impressive level of consistency for Milltown.
Third-placed Greystones were represented by captain Tom Byrne (6), lady captain Josephine Cooney (27) and hon secretary Peter Burke (12). They emulated their 2015 predecessors, Michael Joyce, Jeanne Thorpe, and Gerry Kenny, by qualifying for the final on 77 points.
Greystones is known worldwide now as the home of Tour golfer Paul Dunne and his emergence on the international scene is a fillip, not only for his club, but also for Irish golf.
Local neighbours Malahide GC claimed the fourth and last qualifying slot on 76 points. Take a bow, captain Michael O'Connor (5), lady captain Joan Webster (23), and vice-president Paddy Walsh (19).
Malahide began their round on the eighth, and took only two points at that hole. Credit to the team, they dug deep from there and produced nines of 37-39 for their qualifying score.
Peter Kilcullen, Director of Sales at Allianz, welcomed the participants on behalf of the sponsors and wished them well for their season in office.
Donal Bollard of Allianz, a key man in the running of the Officer Golf Challenge, had an interesting clash of commitments on the day, as he is the 2016 captain of Grange GC.
He played in the competition with Brenda Sheehan, the Grange lady captain, and president Michael Whelan.
81 pts - Slieve Russell (G Donohoe 10, M Gorby 20, B Neligan 11) countback
81 pts - Milltown (P MacCann 9, B Cotter 24, J O'Grady 11)
77 pts - Greystones (T Byrne 6, J Cooney 27, P Burke 12)
76 pts - Malahide (M O'Connor 5, J Webster 23, P Walsh 19)