Dunne looks the one to beat in Close battle
CONNEMARA golf club celebrates its 40th anniversary by hosting the prestigious Irish Amateur Close championship, which starts today with the first round of stroke play qualifying.
The links at Ballyconneely, near Clifden, will offer a demanding but fair test of skill, stamina and course management, with the Atlantic breezes adding to the challenge.
Connemara's golfing jewel was born out of a community effort inspired by the local parish priest, Fr Peter Waldron, who viewed golf as a potential revenue-generating vehicle for the area.
He persuaded the late Eddie Hackett to come on board and design a course woven through the rocks and dunes of a unique landscape.
Richard Phinney and Scott Whitley, authors of the excellent 'Links of Heaven: A Complete Guide To Golf Journeys In Ireland' chronicled the story, observing: "The community had made it happen without the help of any developer or big government grant.
"What had been done elsewhere for millions of pounds had been done here for a hundred thousand."
Fast forward to today, and a highly regarded Connemara is swarming with some of the best amateur talent in the country, all chasing the Irish Close title.
Paul Dunne from Greystones is the man in form after his breakthrough victory in the East of Ireland last Monday.
Dunne (20) a golf scholarship student at University of Alabama Birmingham, won by a shot from Headfort's Brian Casey.
The East winner is primed for a big challenge this week, as is Robbie Cannon of Balbriggan, who annexed the Irish Amateur Open title at Royal Dublin last month.
Chris Selfridge of Moyola Park is back to defend his title, while 2009 champion Pat Murray of Limerick is also in the field.
The St Andrews Links Trophy takes Brian Casey (Headfort), West of Ireland champion Rory McNamara (Headfort), Reeve Whiston (Mourne), Dermot McElroy (Ballymena), Richard O'Donovan (Lucan) and Harry Diamond (Holywood) out of the Close.