Black Bush toast of town as quartet seal final spots
A day to remember -- that was the verdict of all participants in the Allianz-Irish Independent Executive Trophy regional qualifier held at Malone Golf Club in Belfast recently.
Very occasionally, everything comes together on a golf outing, and that was the experience at Malone as the event basked in the best part of the summer to date.
Glorious sunshine, Costa del Sol temperatures, a great welcome from our hosts in Malone GC, and a delightful parkland golf course meant it was smiles all round, even from the teams who did not get into the top four qualifiers for the national final at The K Club on September 6.
The four clubs who emerged from a keenly contested outing went home with a double bonus -- superb pieces of Waterford Crystal and the knowledge they will be in action once again in September.
Black Bush from Dunshaughlin in Meath, represented by captain Pat Connolly, lady captain Linda Ludgate and honorary treasurer Denis Staunton, finished top of the leaderboard with 81 points.
They only pipped Donegal's proud Portsalon crew of captain Diarmuid Logue, lady captain Noreen McConigley and honorary treasurer Hugh McGinley on a countback, as Portsalon also had 81 points.
The honour and reputation of Letterkenny Golf Club was upheld in great fashion by captain Niall O'Donnell, lady captain Angela Kilgallen and honorary president Padraic Munnelly. They compiled a score of 78 points to take third place, again on a countback.
And that fourth place? None other than the hosts, Malone. Captain David Watters, lady captain Anona Boomer and honorary secretary Barry Brennan also hit the 78-point mark, and that brought them through to the final.
Spare a thought for battling Ballyliffin. Their captain Patrick Logue was accompanied by his sister-in-law Agnes Logue and president Phelim Doherty.
The team from the renowned 36-hole links venue gave it their all, but finished a point off qualifying with a total of 77. Such is golf!
Sean McGrath, director of sales and operations for Allianz, welcomed the participants at the post-golf meal and spoke for everyone when he praised all concerned with Malone.
"The courtesy and efficiency of the assistance given to us at the club, the warmth of the welcome and the presentation of the course made for a wonderful day," he said.
"I trust you all enjoyed the opportunity to meet your peers among the club officers on a day when your only responsibility was to play golf and enjoy yourselves!"
Sean also wished the Malone secretary-manager Peter Malone a speedy recovery from a recent illness. Peter was instrumental in bringing this event to Malone for the first time last year.
And so to the golf.
81 points (countback)
Malone has more variety in its elevations than Black Bush, but otherwise the tree-lined fairways and the parkland setting was broadly similar to their home club for Pat (13), Linda (21) and Denis (18).
Captain Pat commented: "None of us had ever played Malone before. It's very similar to Black Bush in terms of trees and greens and fairways, and it's very well manicured. Probably what helped us is that it's a similar kind of course, although we had a disaster on the ninth where we didn't score a point.
"We thought that would cost us dearly but everybody gelled together very well.
"It's all about enjoyment, and to win was a bonus."
You take a team from a Donegal links layout, plop them on a classic parkland course which requires accuracy off the tee and what do you get? A combination which all but won the outing.
There was a secret to the performance of Diarmuid (5), Noreen (24) and Hugh (20) -- they had the opportunity to hone their game on their 'other' course at Headfort, County Meath, as Portsalon and Headfort have organised a dual membership between the clubs.
More of that anon. Suffice to say the Donegal trio did not come unprepared.
"We did very well, and we're delighted. Our club is lucky enough to have twinned with Headfort, and we were playing there last week. The main thing for us was that we got on very well and enjoyed our day. This was a bit of fun, and a great day out," said Diarmuid.
78 points (countback)
Another proud Donegal team. Niall (21), Angela (24) and Padraic (28) managed their performance very well. Teamwork was the key, as was the necessity "to keep the ball straight," said captain Niall.
"You can't afford to be wayward or you'll get punished in the trees. We did a good job of dovetailing and we're absolutely delighted to qualify.
"We managed to keep it going all the way and it's marvellous that we can look forward to the final in The K Club," he said.
David (14), Anona (20) and Barry (5) used their local knowledge to good effect, but their main objective for the day was to ensure that the officers of the visiting clubs enjoyed their experience of playing Malone.
The club was founded in 1895, and was originally situated at Stranmillis, moving to what is now the Queen's Playing Fields in the 1920s.
In the late '50s members became aware the estate at Ballydrain on the Upper Malone Road was for sale. Eventually an EGM was held, and the land was subsequently purchased for £90,000.
The course was completed and opened in 1962. The big house was converted into the imposing clubhouse that is the club's home today.
"Malone has never looked back since then and it's appropriate that we should have the visiting captains, lady captains and honorary officers with us in this special year," said David Watters.
The next qualifying event for the Executive Trophy will be held at Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort on Tuesday, June 26.
It will be followed by the South-Eastern regional qualifier at Mount Juliet on Thursday, July 12, and the Western region event at the revamped Galway Bay on Thursday, August 16.
Entries for those events have closed.
The final will be played at The K Club on Thursday, September 6.