Lahinch takes giant step towards boosting prestige of South

Lahinch Golf Club has taken what it believes will be a giant step towards restoring the prestige of the South of Ireland Amateur Championship by staging a 36-hole stroke play qualifier next year.

Lahinch takes giant step towards boosting prestige of South

Thanks to a less congested national calendar, it’s more likely top Irish and possibly some elite international players will be available to make the trip to the classic Co Clare links for Ireland’s oldest provincial championship.

The date has been brought forward by three days and will begin with stroke-play qualifying rounds over the Old Course on Wednesday and Thursday July 22 and 23, designed to produce a quality 64-man field for match-play combat from July 24-26.

It’s understood that the club and officials at national level will actively canvass the elite Irish players and internationals from as far afield as Australia for the 114th staging of an event that was first played in 1895.

The move is a welcome one considering the weak fields that have turned up at Lahinch in recent years.

Lahinch Golf Club’s captain, Ian Slattery said: “It has been very difficult to attract leading national and international amateur golfers to participate in the South due to a very packed and gruelling schedule of competitions around that time.”

He added: “With the Interpros moving back to the beginning of July and with the changes to the Championship format next year, we see a great opportunity to encourage our leading amateur golfers as well as visitors from overseas, to travel to Lahinch and play one of the world’s greatest links courses midsummer.”

Just one member of the Irish sides that went on to win the Home Internationals this season, Moyola Park’s Chris Selfridge, made the trip from the Interprovincial Championship at The Island to Lahinch for the South, which began just two days later.

He lost in the fourth round and took to Twitter, writing: “Disappointing to lose today in the south at the fantastic @LahinchGolfClub just to much golf recently, #exhausted.”

The absence of West Waterford’s Gary Hurley, was also a blow to an event that saw four unheralded players reach the last four with Shandon Park’s Stuart Bleakley beating Portmarnock’s Darragh Coghlan 3&2 in the final.

The Senior Interprovincial Championship will now take place almost three weeks before the South, which will now have more importance for selectors, who have had the Home International team picked though not announced before the latter stages at Lahinch.

The paucity of World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) points on offer at Lahinch has also been cited as a reason for the poor fields though it’s a chicken and egg situation — the stronger the field, the more points that are awarded.

The South of Ireland is currently a Class F Championship awarding points only to the semi-finalists this year. In contrast, the Irish Amateur Open is Class B with the West a Class C and the East and North of Ireland Championships all in Class D in a system that goes from Elite down to A-G.

The Irish Amateur Close Championship, which has been moved from June to mid-August next season, was also a Class F event as far as world ranking points are concerned.

If next season’s South of Ireland can attract the five Irish players currently ranked in the world’s Top 100 — Gavin Moynihan, Paul Dunne, Jack Hume, Hurley and Cormac Sharvin — the number of world ranking points offer will soar, especially with the strokeplay qualifier counting as a separate event for WAGR purposes.

The presence of an overseas player from the world’s Top 20, would also boost the event’s prestige and while the qualifier might only accommodate 150-160 players — to the disappointment of some in the province — Lahinch is targeting quality over mass participation as the South battles to recover lost prestige.

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