SEASIDE golf on a very windy day at Portmarnock Links, a host of competing teams from tree-lined parkland courses. Surely a recipe for disaster.
Well, no. Not at all. In fact, great credit is due to the four teams that qualified for our first Irish Independent/Allianz Officers Golf Challenge of the season, because none of them came from links golf courses.
Pride of place went to the Milltown representatives captain Jim Byrne, lady captain Clare Kavanagh and vice-president Brian Murphy, who led the qualifiers with 76 points.
In addition to the handsome Waterford Crystal mementoes the Milltown team received, they also got a nice pennant to bring back to the club.
Just two points adrift on 74 were second-placed Hermitage, represented by Peter Ennis (captain), Geraldine Rodgers (lady captain) and Brian O'Connor (vice-captain).
Third place on 73 points went to a Carton House team featuring captain John F Kelly, accompanied by lady captain Marie Sudway and lady vice-captain Anne Crofton.
And last of the qualifiers came Malahide on 70 points, with captain Bill Lowe, lady captain Sadie Burke and president Robert Doyle.
Anthony Shannon, director of claims at Allianz, was impressed with the performances over such a testing course which was presented in great condition by the Portmarnock Links staff, headed by course superintendent Fintan Brennan.
In his after-dinner speech, Shannon also made special mention of the contribution to their clubs and to the game of golf by all the officers at clubs around the country.
"We in Allianz are delighted to co-sponsor this event with the Irish Independent, which is our way of honouring the contribution and dedication of club officers in a social and enjoyable setting," he said. "To Moira Cassidy, director of golf at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, we extend our thanks for the excellence of the facilities and the hospitality and for the quality of the course. We wish all the participants the best for their year in office."
A strong, blustery wind swept across the course throughout the day, but happily the sun shone and temperatures were warm, so the 20 teams got quite a decent day for golf overall, although good course and shot management was required as is always the case at this Bernhard Langer-designed layout.
In that respect, Milltown were the masters. The Links was a new experience for lady captain Clare, who plays off 18. She had never played the course before, but contributed handsomely, as was evident by her best run in the round of five pars and two bogeys in seven holes on the front nine.
Jim (16) and Brian (12) were also in solid form, and that dovetailing combination worked wonders for Milltown.
Captain Jim summed it up saying: "It was a great day out. Conditions were tough and you needed to play solid golf out there. We're delighted it worked out for us and we're looking forward to the final in The K Club."
Vice-president Brian was actually a late substitute on the team as another officer had to cry off, but he made his mark with birdies on the 287-metre 14th and the 334-metre 16th the highlights of his round. They'll be calling him 'supersub' from now on.
Hermitage were not far off the winning mark and Peter Ennis (13), Geraldine Rodgers (15) and Brian O'Connor (8) can be satisfied with their efforts on behalf of the Lucan-based club.
Captain Peter led from the front with two birdies – a two on the par-three third and a three on the par-four 14th – adding lustre to his 17 contributions on the card. Brian, the vice-captain, used his single-figure handicap skills to great effect, and lady captain Geraldine performed very well. Indeed, the lady captain was delighted with some links advice from her team-mates.
"They taught me how to putt on the links course, to keep the putter head steady and to follow through and they took a putter from off the green where I was tending to take a wedge.
"After a couple of holes they told me that playing a wedge in those situations won't work, so go back and get your seven-iron or a putter. That was a big help," said Geraldine.
Carton House captain John F Kelly (7) and lady captain Marie Sudway (6) have played three times in this event, and qualified on each occasion.
Crofton (17), the lady vice-captain, was a newcomer to the team and to the course, but performed impressively alongside the two single-figure players.
Marie won the Leinster Ladies Alliance lady captain's prize at nearby Malahide a few days before the Allianz-Irish Independent qualifier, so she was clearly in good form.
"We had fun, even though it was windy, it was very enjoyable out there," said John. Malahide are close neighbours with the Links, and captain Bill Lowe (17), lady captain Sadie Burke (24) and president Robert Doyle (22) kept the local flag flying high.
Bill, who played in the event back in 2005 when he was Malahide's president, came close to making history, but an ace just eluded him on the par-three 11th when his tee shot finished just inches from the hole.
This is the 18th year of the Challenge and we've never had a hole-in-one. Bill was so close to breaking that duck, but was still happy with a tap-in birdie to help the team's cause.
All four teams go through to the final at The K Club, which will be played on Thursday, September 5.