Equality and new horizons for golf on view at Malone
The ongoing progress of equality and the attainment of significant landmarks in Irish golf provided a fascinating background to the Ulster qualifying event of the Allianz-Irish Independent Officer Golf Challenge played at Malone GC in Belfast.
Each of the four teams which qualified for the national final at The K Club on Thursday, September 3, had carved a special niche in their club's history.
Winners Letterkenny (79 points) featured Anne Condon, the first female to be club president since the Donegal club was founded in 1913.
Anne played alongside captain Gerard Duffy and lady captain Margo Birmingham at Malone.
She and husband Dermot, a past captain of Letterkenny GC, have contributed to the Letterkenny club in various roles for over 20 years.
A former hockey player with Old Alexandra, Anne also played cricket for Phoenix CC in Dublin.
Runners-up Slieve Russell (77 points) were represented by captain Albert Martin, lady captain Margaret Martin and president Cathal Brady.
And yes, you've guessed right - Albert and Margaret are married, and they are also the first husband and wife to hold the Slieve Russell captaincy in the same year.
Third-place qualifiers and host club Malone (captain Peter Law, lady captain Eleanor McKelvey and honorary secretary Stephen Smith, 76 points) will stage the prestigious Vagliano Trophy match between GB and Ireland and the Continent of Europe on June 26/27.
This is another 'first' for Northern Ireland, as the Vagliano has never previously been staged at an Ulster venue.
In fact, the only previous occasion it was hosted on the island of Ireland was in 2003 at County Louth.
Last but not least came Belvoir Park on 73 points.
Captain Gary Jones was accompanied by lady captain Maureen Donaldson and the club's honorary secretary Pauline Bailie.
Pauline's appointment as the overall honorary secretary was a first for Belvoir in its 88 years of existence. Lady captain Margo broke new ground by her election as a club officer in addition to her duties as captain of the ladies section.
All in all, pretty impressive, as were the facilities available to our guests at Malone on and off the course.
Letterkenny's 2014 team - Tom McDonagh, Catherine Cooke-Harkin and Barry Ramsay - qualified from Malone for the final last year, but the class of 2015 can claim the bragging rights as leading qualifiers.
Club captain Gerard, a six handicap, commented: "We didn't expect to do well at all.
"Myself and the lady captain had never played the course before but we enjoyed ourselves."
Gerard's enjoyment of Malone was definitely enhanced by his performance in getting around in six-over par, but the key factor was the consistency of the team effort throughout the 18 holes.
Slieve Russell captain Albert Martin is a Dub with an involvement with the Co Cavan club stretching back 19 years.
"We had a good mix in the team.
"Mag came in with a few good scores, and Cathal was solid. He was the anchor.
"He chipped into the hole on the 18th from about 30 yards off the green. That one went straight in. We scored well but the main thing was we had a bit of fun," said Albert.
Our co-sponsors Allianz were represented by Sales Director Peter Kilcullen, who welcomed the guests and wished them well for their year in office.
He also extended congratulations to Malone on having the honour of staging the Vagliano Trophy and Junior Vagliano event.
Four Irish are involved: Leona Maguire and Olivia Mehaffey with the senior Vagliano side, and Mairead Martin (Killarney) and Annabel Wilson (Lurgan) on the Junior team.
Malone captain Peter Law said: "There is a lot of work being done to get ready for the Vagliano.
"Our ladies section have been to the fore in preparations, with great help from the ILGU, the LGU and the European Golf Association.
"We're delighted to be hosting such an important international event, and we're looking forward to it," he said.
Belvoir Park has many claims to fame, not least that Dame Mary Peters, the legendary Olympic Women's Pentathlon champion of 1972, is an honorary member of the club.
Gary Jones, the captain, plays off four handicap, and he was ably assisted in qualifying by lady captain Maureen and the honorary secretary Pauline.
"It's always a pleasure to play at The K Club, so we're all looking forward to the final in September," said Gary.
1 Letterkenny 79pts
(Gerard Duffy 6, Margo Birmingham 30, Anne Condon 21)
2 Slieve Russell 77pts
(Albert Martin 13, Margaret Martin 20, Cathal Brady 12)
3 Malone 76pts
(Peter Law 8, Eleanor McKelvey 18, Stephen Smith, 13)
4 Belvoir Park 73pts
(Gary Jones 4, Maureen Donaldson 27, Pauline Bailie 10)