THE strong winds that battered the country over the last two days have made practice rounds difficult for the GUI golfers preparing for the opening of the GUI-Chartis Insurance Ireland Cups and Shields festival at Castlerock golf club today.
Now it's fingers crossed that the weather will not prevent the Barton Shield and Junior Cup semi-finals from going ahead as scheduled. The teams are primed for action and GUI officials hope that the weather gods are in generous mood.
First to tee off over the par-73, 6,747-yard Mussenden links at Castlerock GC is the Tramore versus Athenry Barton Shield semi-final, followed by the Enniscorthy-Warrenpoint match. They will be followed by the Junior Cup semi-finals which pair Ballina against Mitchelstown and Lurgan against County Meath.
Over the following days the destiny of the 2011 Pierce Purcell Shield, the Jimmy Bruen Shield and the Senior Cup will be decided in an event which is the pinnacle of the club golfer's competitive year.
Among the golfers who relish the chance to compete for a national pennant is Tramore's Alan Thomas. The 34-year-old was a member of the Tramore panel which won the Barton Shield at Rosses Point in 1994.
A teenager at the time, Thomas didn't get the chance to play in the All-Ireland semi-final or final but today he is ready, willing and able to do all he can to help his club.
The season has already been memorable as Thomas -- a son of former Waterford soccer goalkeeper Peter Thomas -- created history by winning the Tramore President's (Frank Fox) and the Captain's (Gabriel Kennedy) Prize.
The feat had not been achieved before at Tramore and as Thomas had never won either of these club majors he was particularly pleased.
His golfing CV includes a stint as a professional, and he applied for reinstatement as an amateur in 2008.
"I turned professional in 2001 and gave it about six years," he said. "I did the PGA qualifications for two years and I played EuroPro Tour, Challenge Tour and Sunshine Tour. It was tough.
"There are so many guys that are so good out there, but I have no regrets. I would have hated to look back when I was 40 and wish I had given it a go but I'm delighted to be back in the amateurs."
A scratch handicap, Thomas and his fellow Tramore members are geared up for a tough challenge.
"We have a good panel. We're at it since the first Monday in January, practising in all weathers," he said.
Thomas partners Dave Kiely against Athenry's Conor Waters and David Byrne. Chris Butler and Declan King will play the other Athenry pairing Mark King and Michael Lane.
Warrenpoint are Ulster champions in three events -- the Senior Cup, Barton Shield and Jimmy Bruen Shield -- so their teams will have huge support in the bid for a hat-trick of titles. Paul Reavey and Ryan Gribben were on the Warrenpoint team which won the 2008 Senior Cup.
Athenry are chasing a double in the Barton and Pierce Purcell Shields.
Programme for week
Today -- Barton Shield semi-finals: Tramore v Athenry, 10.30; Enniscorthy v Warrenpoint, 10.50. Junior Cup semi-finals: Ballina v Mitchelstown, 11.10; Lurgan v Co Meath, 12.0.
Tomorrow -- Pierce Purcell Shield semi-finals: Corrstown v Letterkenny, 8.0; Woodstock v Athenry, 8.50. Junior Cup final, 11.0-11.40; Barton Shield final, 12.0-12.10.
Friday -- Senior Cup semi-finals: Warrenpoint v Co Sligo, 8.30; Muskerry v Portmarnock, 9.30. Pierce Purcell Shield final, 10.30-11.10. Jimmy Bruen Shield semi-finals: Forrest Little v Warrenpoint, 12.0; Claremorris v Faithlegg, 12.50.
Saturday -- Senior Cup final, 9.0. Jimmy Bruen Shield final, 10.30.
ENNISCORTHY members have already celebrated a significant victory, thanks to their successful FBD Barton Cup team.
The Wexford lads, under the guidance of Jim Delaney, Richard O'Connor and Liam Spratt, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when they lost the first leg of the final 4-1 away to Dunmurry Springs.
They needed an epic home display, and it was duly provided after seven hours of play which included a crucial match that went to the 20th, and finally, a three-hole play-off.
Enniscorthy's team was: Jason Rackard, Thomas Browne, Martin Sludds, Nigel Callan, Mark Murphy, Joe Wilson, Murt Mangan, Mark Kavanagh, Nicky Murphy, Robert Ronan. At 5-5 after regular play, Rackard and Browne were nominated for the play-off against Dunmurry Springs duo Aidan Kelly and Andy Kavanagh, and the Enniscorthy men won by one hole.
finals day for ilgu
ARDEE golf club is the venue for the ILGU's National finals and today is quarter-final day in the Junior Cup, Intermediate Cup and Minor Cup. East Cork are the only club to have two teams qualified in different competitions. They play Athenry tomorrow in the Junior Cup semi-finals, while they will meet Loughrea in the Challenge Cup semi-finals on Friday.
THIS is the 'silverware season' for many clubs, as the staging of the GUI and ILGU national finals and the Barton Cup decider illustrates.
Two more clubs celebrating significant success last week were Sutton and Thurles, and by coincidence they were each linked to the late golfing legend Joe Carr.
Sutton tasted victory in the Carr-Mara Trophy at Rosses Point -- the trophy for the event, played between seven Irish and seven US clubs, is a replica of the 1960 Amateur Championship trophy won by Carr.
The event honours Carr and the late Wellington Mara, who was an owner of the New York Giants and a founder member of Winged Foot GC.
The Irish clubs involved were Royal Portrush, Co Sligo, Co Louth, Lahinch, Ballybunion, Portmarnock and Sutton.
The winning Sutton team, captained by Owen Morton, was: John Carr, Alan Darbey, John O'Neill, Aidan Williams, Tony Higgins, David O'Neill, Alan Levey, and Frank Grant.
Meanwhile, Thurles claimed the JB Carr Diamond Trophy at Woodenbridge last weekend. This over-60s Scotch Foursomes creates great interest.
Semi-finalists and provincial champions were Clandeboye, The Heath, Thurles, and Strandhill. The final was played between Thurles and The Heath, with the Tipperary club winning 3-2. Clandeboye won the third-place play-off over Strandhill.