Woodenbridge keep their cool in heat of Juliet battle
SUMMER sunshine, soaring temperatures and the superb Jack Nicklaus-designed Mount Juliet layout provided a memorable experience for the participants in the Irish Independent/Allianz Officers Golf Challenge last Tuesday.
The internationally renowned Kilkenny venue, which has hosted three Irish Opens and two World Golf Championships, was in first-class condition for the event as the captains, lady captains and honorary officers tackled this prime tract of golfing magnificence.
Best score of the day came from the Woodenbridge team of captain Mark Burke, lady captain Siobhan Saunders and her husband Kevin Saunders, the club's 2013 vice-captain.
Their combined total of 77 points on the two-to-score stableford basis featured a strong finish on the last three holes, which was no mean feat given the heat factor.
"It was very hot. At one stage we were pouring bottles of water over us, but the course was spectacular and in magnificent condition," said captain Mark.
He rightly identified the Woodenbridge trio's performance on holes 16, 17 and 18 as pivotal in their taking the leading qualifiers' prize and the winners' pennant back to the club.
A 17-point haul over those demanding closing holes was remarkable, and in that respect, the captain led from the front finishing four (par), five (par), four (par) for nine of those points.
Vice-captain Kevin nailed a bogey on 17 for two points, and just to finish off, lady captain Siobhan got a five on the 18th – which is a par-five for the ladies – and another three points.
The Woodenbridge team were delighted to bring back the pennant to their club, and hope it will provide some inspiration for their Barton Cup quarter-final against Grange next Friday.
Mark's 18-year-old son Luke, a four-handicap golfer, is on the Barton Cup squad, so there's a personal interest as well as a club aspect for the Burke family in that quarter-final.
Incidentally, Luke caddied for Suzanne Corcoran of Portumna, who won the Irish Senior Women's Close title at Woodenbridge recently.
Speaking of the Mount Juliet experience, Mark summed up the feelings of all the participants when he said: "It was an absolutely magnificent day. The course was spectacular and we enjoyed the day immensely. A big 'thank you' is due to the sponsors, Irish Independent and Allianz, for giving us the opportunity to be part of this competition."
Brendan Murphy, CEO of Allianz, was happy that the guests got their chance to play such a fine course at its best, and also commended Mount Juliet golf director Francis Howley and the staff for the quality of the service and hospitality as well as the conditioning of the 18 holes.
Rathsallagh's team of captain Francis Donnelly, lady captain Eleanor Brazill and president John Mullen battled hard for 74 points, which put them in second place.
"We felt we left a few shots out there. The pin positions were quite tricky and it was a tough course, but overall we managed ourselves around it quite well," said Francis. "When we got in and were rehydrating, we felt there would be a better score to come in but we were thrilled when we heard we had qualified for the final."
Rathsallagh kept their scores ticking over and didn't blank any hole, which is always a positive at Mount Juliet no matter what the format of the competition.
Third-place qualifiers on 73 points were The Heath, represented by captain Kevin Woulfe, lady captain Mary Culliton and honorary secretary Joe Dunne.
Mary is a popular figure in ILGU circles. In addition to being a fine golfer, she has captained Leinster to women's inter-provincial championships. The presence of Irish golfing great and current ILGU president Mary McKenna at Culliton's lady captain's prize day last month indicates the esteem in which she is held.
The Heath team was tightly handicapped, with the captain off 11 and Mary and Joe off 10, but they kept their focus and combined well to clinch their place in the final at The K Club on September 5.
Captain Kevin, a proud Clare man who has been a member of The Heath since 1976, was very pleased with the team's performance. "We hadn't too many shots to play with, but we were all involved in every hole and we had no blanks on the scorecard," he said.
Courtown from County Wexford captured the final qualifying slot. Captain Karl Caulfield, lady captain Barbara Long and president Brendan Sheehan amassed 68 points, which was enough to see them through.
"The course was magnificent but we found it played long off the white tees," said Karl. "We started on the back nine, and our score on that was poor enough, but once we got into the front nine we put a few good scores together. We didn't think we'd qualify so it was great to go through."
Karl was right when he said the team struggled from holes 10-18, because they yielded only 27 points. However, a storming show over their homeward stretch brought in a super 41 points and got Courtown over the line.