Tee to Green: Baltinglass shine bright at majestic Mount Juliet
MOUNT Juliet celebrates 20 years of existence this year, and what a setting it provided for the participants in the Allianz-Irish Independent Executive Trophy regional qualifier last week.
The lush, tree-lined fairways, the smooth-rolling greens and the Jack Nicklaus design combined to present the famed Kilkenny golfing and leisure venue in majestic fashion.
The late Tim Mahony, a man of great vision and enterprise who commissioned Nicklaus to transform the Mount Juliet estate into a haven of high-class golf, has left a worthy legacy.
Our recent visit to the Kilkenny course reminded me of what a great tournament venue this is: two fine nine-hole loops, superb practice facilities right at the clubhouse, the ease of access and the excellent off-course facilities, including the hotel and the unique 18-hole putting course.
Course superintendent Aidan O'Hara and his staff, who presented Mount Juliet in fine style for three Irish Opens, and two WGC events in 2002 and 2004, did our participants proud.
The Allianz-Irish Independent event is unique in that it brings a captain, lady captain, and an honorary officer of a club to compete for their club, with four teams to qualify for the final, to be played on the Ryder Cup course, the Palmer layout, at The K Club.
Not all of the members of the 20 teams that played last week could qualify, but the feedback was that everyone enjoyed their day's golf and the camaraderie among the club officers was very much evident in the banter and the craic after the golf.
Aidan Hanratty, director, underwriting of Allianz, was host for the day, and he welcomed the guests, saying: "Congratulations on your election to high office in your clubs.
"Golf in this country would be seriously diminished without your dedication and service.
"We appreciate that the economic situation leaves golf clubs facing many challenges, but co-sponsoring this event with the Irish Independent is our way of recognising your contribution to the game."
Baltinglass, from Co Wicklow, led the way, followed by Dun Laoghaire, Nenagh, and Celbridge Elm Hall.
First place qualifiers, 80pts (42/38). Team: Fran Quaid, captain (16); Margo Doyle, lady captain (17); Noel Scott, president (16).
Baltinglass had mixed fortunes and cause to worry at times, but Fran, Margo, and Noel handled the challenge at Mount Juliet very well to finish as leading qualifiers with four points to spare.
Quaid summed up the performance of the Wicklow club, saying: "We didn't think we'd kept it together well enough.
"We thought we had done particularly well for the first four holes, then we started slipping away, but we settled down to a level of steadiness.
"And then we fell below that level, but we had a little resurgence towards the end. The main thing is we've had a great day and we want to thank the sponsors Allianz and the Irish Independent for a great sponsorship."
Baltinglass is the home club of former Irish Ladies Close winner Mary Gorry and Stephen Walsh, who won the Ulster Youths title last year.
Second place qualifiers, 76 (35/41).
Team: Ray Sullivan, captain (20); Nicky Robinson, lady captain (9); Derek Montgomery, president (14).
As the low handicap member of the team, the lady captain had to remind the captain and president to sharpen their focus after a few blips on the front nine.
The gentle reminder had the desired effect as Dun Laoghaire upped their game to claim 41 points on the back nine and comfortably clinch a place in the final on September 1.
Montgomery commented: "We started great -- then we fell into our normal game, which is pretty awful!
"We visited the water, we visited the sand, but Nicky had a word with us and told us to cut out the rubbish and play some decent golf.
"That, and the fact that after the first nine we said, 'look we're miles out of this, we're not going to win it, so let's relax and enjoy ourselves.'
"Almost immediately, the putts started dropping and we managed to avoid the bunkers and water on the back nine."
Nice timing by Nicky -- on the day after the Mount Juliet qualifier she was due to play at The K Club by invitation of a member, so that gave her an opportunity to test out the course in advance of the final.
Third place qualifiers, 75pts (35/40).
Team: Michael Manning, captain (18); Marie Scroope, lady captain (18); Michael Scroope, president (7).
As Nenagh golf club teams have been the national winners of this prestigious event for an unprecedented two years in a row, local pride dictated that this year's team at least needed to qualify for the final at The K Club.
And this they did, with the husband and wife team of Michael and Marie Scroope combining well with the club captain.
The president commented: "We were under severe pressure until our captain got a few birdies on the back nine. Before that we really thought we'd be out of the competition."
Captain Manning made a decisive contribution with successive birdies on the par-three 14th and the par-four 15th, scoring four points on each hole.
The president added a one-point bogey to make it five points for the team on the 14th, and a par for two points and a six-point haul on 15.
The Scroopes have had the distinction of helping Nenagh to win an All-Ireland Mixed Foursomes title, and that competitive experience helped the team cause at Mount Juliet.
They were the winning pair in the mixed final eight years ago, in which they won the deciding match on the 21st hole.
Celbridge Elm Hall
fourth place qualifiers, 73 pts (33/40) on countback.
Team: John Hayes, captain (14); May O'Leary, lady captain (26); Brendan Birchall, vice-captain (12).
What a nice way to step on to the national stage for Celbridge Elm Hall, the Kildare club with a nine-hole layout which is in existence for only 13 years.
"We're probably one of the smallest clubs here today. We've about 145 members. This course suited us because our fairways are probably a quarter of the size of Mount Juliet's," said Birchall.
The team arrived with no expectations and were determined to enjoy their day out.
They did so in fine style, recovering from a moderate first nine to storm home in 40 points and pip Edenderry (Brendan Bergin, Trudy O'Neill, Niall Dempsey) for the fourth and last qualifying spot by virtue of that performance on the inward half.