A REGIONAL qualifier for the Allianz Irish Independent Executive Trophy has been played in Northern Ireland for the first time. And what better venue to stage a welcome for the event, now in its 16th year, than the venerable and scenic Malone Golf Club.
Situated on the beautiful, undulating tree-lined Ballydrain Estate and featuring the Ballydrain Lake which meanders through the heart of the 27-hole complex, Malone offered a wonderful challenge for the competitors.
It was an eye-opener for many of the captains, lady captains and honorary officers from the clubs who had not had the pleasure of playing Malone.
Greens were fast and true; the course was testing as expected, and then there was the X-factor -- the gusting wind. No wonder three of the qualifying clubs came from links courses.
Laytown & Bettystown, represented by captain Russell Durnin, lady captain Bernie Mullan and hon secretary Brian Crinion, mastered the conditions best. They scored 77 points for a one-point margin over John Garvey (captain), Karen McCahey (lady captain) and Tom Upton (president) from neighbours Seapoint.
Third place went to Rossmore, who carried the banner for parkland courses to the final at The K Club on September 2. Club captain Michael Liddle, lady captain Margaret Treanor and hon secretary Stephen Morrissey did a sound job in compiling 72 points, to edge out Portsalon on the back nine.
Portsalon's trio of Donal Callaghan (captain), lady captain Marie Gilligan and president Willie McCleary battled hard, and now look forward to the final.
Interesting to note that in this qualifier last year, Seapoint and Portsalon also got through to the final, and each had a man with experience on their 2011 team.
John Garvey played in 2010 as vice-captain for Seapoint, while Donal Callaghan also competed as the Portsalon vice-captain.
Unfortunately neither club managed to trouble the top four in last year's final, so no doubt John and Donal will hope to use their past experience to good effect at The K Club.
The main objective was to provide enjoyable competition in a social context, and in that sense, everyone was a winner.
Brendan Murphy, chief executive of Allianz, summed up the mood of the day when he commented: "It is our pleasure to visit Malone Golf Club for the first time with this event and we have been delighted with the welcome and the hospitality given to all our guests. The golf course is in excellent condition and we look forward to returning to Malone in the future."
Laytown & Bettystown captain Russell plays off a one handicap, and led from the front, particularly when he had a brace of threes -- one for birdie on the par-four 16th and the other for eagle on the par-five 17th.
Russell hit drive, sand-wedge to the edge of the 16th and holed a monster putt for birdie. He then went one better with drive and nine-iron to the fringe of the 17th and again holed a raker for that eagle.
"We are delighted to go through to the final, but more important, we as captains and club officers spent much of our time supporting club teams, so it's nice to be able to play as a team ourselves in this special event," said Durnin.
Local bragging rights were claimed by the Bettystown club as they had that point to spare over Seapoint.
Seapoint lady captain Karen, an 18 handicap, enjoyed the four par-three holes, as she got a par on three of them and a steady bogey on the other one.
Captain John (5) admitted he struggled with the driver, but his scrambling and short game enabled him to keep contributing, while Tom Upton played steadily.
Rossmore's trio dovetailed well. Their combination play was illustrated perfectly on the 17th and 18th holes, on which they gained valuable five-point tallies.
Michael Liddle (22) got three points on the 17th, and lady captain Margaret earned a solid two points there.
On the final hole, Michael and 24-handicap Stephen Morrissey carved out two and three points respectively, giving them a cushion that got them into the final.
Portsalon's back nine of 34 points for a 72 total was good enough to qualify, but the real prize was, according to president Willie McCleary -- "getting to play this course. It has to be the best parkland course I've ever played."
Dundalk (Dessie Ward, Kitty Duffy and Noel McGuinness) stormed home in 39 points, but their opening half of 32 left them just outside the qualifying places.
Details -- 77pts: Laytown and Bettystown (Russell Durnin 1, Bernie Mullan 30, Brian Crinion 10); 76: Seapoint (John Garvey 5, Karen McCahey 18, Tom Upton 15); 72: Rossmore (Michael Liddle 22, Margaret Treanor 33, Stephen Morrissey 24); 72: Portsalon (Donal Callaghan 14, Marie Gilligan 17, Willie McClearly 22).