Disappointment and frustration at GUI's seismic change in format for Irish Close bid
THE Golfsure Irish Close championship, which starts today at Royal Dublin GC, will be the last for at least two years to have a stroke play/match play format.
And in a major break with tradition, the 2011 staging of the event at Shannon GC and the 2012 staging at Royal Portrush will be played solely on a stroke play basis.
These events will also be condensed from a five-day format of 36 holes of stroke play and three days of match play, into 72 holes of stroke play to be played over a weekend.
Effectively the Irish Close -- the Blue Riband of amateur golf in this country -- will become a clone of the Irish Amateur Open Championship.
And the two championships -- Close and Amateur Open -- will be completed in the month of May for 2011 and 2012.
It's a seismic change for the title that elite golfers want to win above any other.
The Close, inaugurated in 1893, has undergone various changes in format in the last 117 years but, as far as can be ascertained, some element of match play has always been part of the championship.
So why change?
Essentially the GUI is experimenting with the Close format for two reasons. Firstly, the international calendar is packed and condensing, causing players to make choices as to whether to play at home or abroad.
And secondly there is also the question of time, commitment and cost, particularly for career amateurs who combine work with playing golf.
The Union's view is that, in order to protect their top championship, they need to experiment with these changes and give all their top players, particularly the Walker Cup panellists, every chance to compete in the Close.
GUI General Secretary Seamus Smith, commented: "There is also the cost factor and the time factor. You're talking five or six days including practice if you go all the way.
"We're not aiming our championship at full-time players. We're aiming it at the amateurs of Ireland.
"We have to help develop the game of golf and help develop Irish guys who work for a living as well."
However, Irish champion Pat Murray of Limerick, who arrived yesterday for a practice round before starting the defence of his title, disagrees.
The 38-year-old is secretary-manager of Limerick GC and combines his career with amateur golf at the top level.
"I'm disappointed. I say keep it at match play and keep the tradition. We have enough stroke play," he said.
"There is the argument about time, but the Close is our biggest event. For Walker Cup players, my view is that winning your national championship will count as much as any international event."
The dates for the stroke play Irish Close in 2011 and 2012 are May 20-22 and May 25-27 respectively.
Meanwhile, the rough is up at Royal Dublin GC and the greens are quick, so the 150 starters for the competition will require patience today and also tomorrow if they are to qualify for the 64 who start match play on Monday.
Paul Cutler, winner of the Lytham Trophy, reached the last eight of the British Amateur, and as such gets a bye into the match play stages at Royal Dublin.
Cutler, Alan Dunbar, who won the Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin last month, East of Ireland winner Cian Curley, Luke Lennox, Seamus Power and Pat Murray are strong contenders for the title.