LAURA DAVIES, one of the world's most successful golfers, will return to Ireland next September.The Ladies European Tour has struggled over the years to become established as a Major Tour but Ireland has kept faith with the lady professionals since the first Irish Open in 1994 and once again the event is included on the calendar this year.
The Donegal Ladies Irish Open was unveiled by Minister for Tourism, Sport and recreation in Letterkenny on Saturday evening. The prize fund for the tournament scheduled for September 3-5 will be £110,000 with the £100,000 coming from tourism funds and Letterkenny club raising the remainder.
It is a major coup to secure the entry of the ever popular Davies who has been a good supporter of the Irish Open and, in fact, created a World record when she won the Guardian Irish Open in 1995 shooting brilliant 25 under par 267 at St Margaret's.
The 35-year-old Davies spends most of her time on the US circuit where she won the US Open in 1987. Having won the British Open the previous year, she held both titles for a brief period. In 1996 she headed the Ping Leader Board, the women's equivalent of World Ranking, for a second time having recorded nine victories in six different countries. An extrovert who like a pint, she has an interest in all sports, enjoys a flutter with the bookies and fast cars.
This will be the Tour's second visit to Ireland's north west as Ballyliffin hosted the event a year ago. The Letterkenny club was founded in 1913 but the county boasts one of the oldest clubs on the island in Port Salon. There is also evidence that golf was played in Letterkenny over 100 years ago on the lands of Major General ACH Stewart at Rockhill House Estate where the steward wrote to his master stating that ``Mr Chambers, Manager of the Ulster Bank, Dr Carre and a few others been playing golf on the lawn starting at McDaid's old lodge and going across into the Fort Field.
``They say it is splendid land for golf and have asked for six pots to be laid but I refused until I hear from you.''
The Irish Open will be, by far, the biggest golfing event held in the area. The course was originally nine holes at Crievesmith but in 1967 moved to an 18 hole lay-out at Barnhill.
PLAYING FULL TIME
Ireland has produced only a few professional lady golfers and only two are currently playing full time.
Former British Amateur champion. Lillian Behan played the tour without much success for several years but is now back in the amateur ranks while Maureen Madill, also a former Amateur champion, has been a pro since 1986 but nowadays spends most of her time teaching is current coach the British and Irish elite squad.
Aideen Rogers and Tracey Eakin are the only two regulars and both are looking forward to a season that is scheduled to run from May to October with 15 tournaments including the British Open which boasts a record prize fund of £575,000.