Parkland raiders stay course to breeze home
SEASIDE golf proved a breeze – literally and metaphorically – for teams from parkland courses in the Irish Independent Allianz Officer Golf Challenge event played at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links.
A testing, blustery wind asked questions of all the participants but when the last putt dropped, the four qualifying positions were filled by Newlands (77 points), Hermitage (74), Grange (72) and Stackstown (71).
It was remarkable that four parkland clubs should come to such a challenging venue as Portmarnock Links and score so well on a fine, but windy day.
Portmarnock Links director of golf Moira Cassidy welcomed the guests on behalf of the host venue, and in turn received their gratitude and appreciation for the high standards, on and off the course, from the participants and joint sponsors.
Brian Higgins, sales director of Allianz, commended the captains, lady captains and honorary officers for their enthusiastic participation, and for their commitment to the game and to their golf clubs.
"We, as co-sponsors with the Irish Independent, are delighted to host this day out for all of the club officers," he said.
"It's our way of appreciating and recognising the efforts you all make to maintain standards and to keep the golf clubs operating in these difficult times for the game."
Pre-event predictions were that a points tally in the late 60s could bring teams through to the final, but as events transpired, the parkland raiders all hit 70 and over to take the top four places.
Credit to Newlands. Their team of captain Liam Branigan, lady captain Anne Croft and vice-captain Dermot Bradshaw defied all predictions by scoring 77 points.
Captain Liam Branigan commented: "The course is magnificent and the whole day was brilliant. It probably helped that we have three good handicaps. I'm off 11, Dermot's off nine and Anne is off 16.
"We weren't used to playing much on links, but we just got the run of the ball. There was a couple of times when it looked as if a ball was going into the bunker and we got a lucky kick. We holed a few putts. That was about it."
Sounds simple, but then, good golf generally feels simple and easy, and the Newlands trio meshed so well they never lost momentum.
The format was two to score at each hole and Liam, Anne, and Dermot kept a steady pace to record nines of 39 and 38 points for their winning 77.
One of the highlights was lady captain Anne's display on the par-three 11th, which measures 135 metres for the men, and 112 metres for women.
Anne's tee shot finished in the deep bunker to the right of the green. She blasted out to just reach the putting surface, and then holed a raker of a putt that had a huge borrow for her three.
Dermot will have happy memories of back-to-back birdies on the par-four seventh and eighth holes. He had a shot on each so they were worth four points each – a nice bonus for the team.
The captain's contribution was bulwarked by six pars, so each member of the Newlands team could be well satisfied with their outing.
Hermitage, represented by captain Brian O'Connor, lady captain Dolores Aird and vice-captain Pat McGilloway, looked set for a sensational score when they turned with 42 points
However, the wind and the back nine test took their toll as Hermitage finished with 31 points.
It was still a very impressive showing, as Hermitage finished only three behind the leading qualifiers.
Meanwhile, Ryder Cup brothers in arms Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington would be proud of the Grange and Stackstown performances.
McGinley, Europe's captain at this year's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, and three-time Major winner Harrington have never forgotten their roots.
The two Dubliners are internationally renowned stars, but they remain club men first and foremost.
Indeed, McGinley was elected as this year's Grange honorary captain to mark his elevation to Ryder Cup captaincy.
The Grange 'real' captain is six-handicap Tony Frew, who combined with lady captain Anne Lawford and honorary secretary Frank O'Riordan for the 72 points which clinched third place.
They did very well on the front nine to clock up 40 points, and looked well on target for a big overall score, only to battle their way home with 32.
"We enjoyed ourselves. It's a great event and this is a really good course. The wind was a big factor and playing off the white tees made it a very good test," said captain Tony Frew.
The captain finished the front nine with a flourish, going three (birdie), three (birdie) and three (par) on holes seven, eight and nine.
Incidentally, in view of McGinley's status, Frew reminds us that Grange are running a 'Ryder Cup' Challenge which is open to all golfers.
Already two of five qualifying events have been played, but there are three to come in May, June and July.
The competition is open to male and female golfers and the top 12 from all five events will go through to a Grand Final at the Grange on September 25. Full details are available from the Grange GC.
"We're very proud of Paul's achievements and we want to see as many visiting golfers as possible play his home club in this special year," said Tony Frew.
Stackstown, of course, was put on the world map by the Major-winning feats of Harrington.
Harrington has gone through some tough times since 2008 when he won the last of his three Majors, but he's still Ireland's greatest golfer – at least until Rory McIlroy or Graeme McDowell can emulate his achievements.
Meanwhile 2014 captain Pat McCrohan, lady captain Alice Shaughnessy Hynes and honorary secretary Noel McDermott kept the Stackstown flag flying high as they booked their place in the September 4 final to be played at The K Club.
The team carded 71 points (36, 35) and were delighted to qualify.
Captain Pat McCrohan commented: "Noel has played here in the past, but I never played the course before, and nor did Alice, but it's a fantastic course. The links is so different to the parkland but very enjoyable.
"It was a bit tough with the wind today and it was catching you from different directions but we had a lovely day."