The issue Portmarnock golf club must resolve

The wheels of progress turn very slowly at Portmarnock but if the sticky issue of women members is ever resolved, Shane Lowry will join Rory McIlroy at the top of the queue for the return of the Irish Open to what many consider to be Ireland’s blue riband links.

The issue Portmarnock golf club must resolve

As he launched his very own line of clothing for Kartel at Greystones yesterday — the brand will be sold at Heatons stores nationwide — the 28-year-old looked out at the torrential rain and sighed when he recalled the golden links conditions he enjoyed in a pre-Open Championship practice round at Portmarnock just last Thursday.

“It’s just the best links track, isn’t it?” he beamed. “I’d love to see the Irish Open going back there. I grew up watching Irish Opens at Portmarnock.

“I remember the one Michael Campbell won in 2003 and all the other ones held there over the years.

“Obviously they are going to have to sort out the issue with women members but I hope they do because it is just a fantastic links course, one of the best in the world.”

Lowry has come a long way since he last played a competitive round at Portmarnock as a 19-year-old amateur in 2006 when he was disqualified for the second senior championship in a row.

After signing for a wrong score in qualifying for the “West” that year because his playing partner had put him down for a three rather than a four at the fifth, he then surged into contention for the Irish Amateur Open title just four weeks later.

A best of the day 74 in horrific conditions gave him the clubhouse lead before he was disqualified a matter of minutes later for failing to sign his card at all.

“I just threw it in,” he said that day, his voice trailing off.

He smiled when he recalled the incident yesterday but when it comes to the question of an Irish Open return for the first time since 2003, there are moves afoot to solve the crucial men-only question which remains a barrier to the Irish Open returning due to the public money that’s invested in that event.

We’re told Rory McIlroy, who hosted the Irish Open at Royal County Down in May, wrote to Portmarnock asking them if they would be willing to make the moves necessary to help him host national open there.

Just last May, the club embarked on an extensive three-phase consultative process with its members to consider the admittance of female members.

Portmarnock’s move to discuss the gender issue is directly related to moves by Open venues Royal Troon, Muirfield and Royal St George’s to discuss their own men-only policies.

Last year, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews ended its 260-year ban on women members. While it appears that it will still be some time before the older members of Portmarnock agree to change, everyone agrees that it will be a shame if a course that is probably the best situated to host an Irish Open, cannot do so for the foreseeable future.

McIlroy was there just last Tuesday for an Open Championship practice round with his business assistant and some friends, though it now appears likely that injury he picked up playing football will prevent him defending the Claret Jug at St Andrews next week.

The World No. 1 found a links that’s in superb condition thanks to head greenkeeper Gary Johnstone and it’s a crime that we may have to wait several years before there is any sign of the club moving towards change.

McIlroy could not be seen to host an Irish Open at a club where women are denied membership and, while the wheels have been set in motion, the older members are still reluctant to change.

What is clear is that the course is a far better test for the modern pro than Royal County Down, which was also a nightmare for spectators to negotiate in tough weather.

Lowry, for one, would love to see the event heading back in Portmarnock.

“It would probably be my number one choice as a links venue for the Irish Open and I’ve played well around there… next time I’ll make sure I sign the card!”

Pro or not, Leona Maguire an Olympics contender

She might not be a professional, but it is technically possible that Leona Maguire could qualify to represent Ireland in the 2016 Olympic Games as an amateur.

The world No 1 finished a brilliant second in the Ladies British Masters in Buckinghamshire on Sunday to pick up nine world ranking points and soar straight in at 336th in the Rolex World Rankings.

That’s more than 300 places ahead of world No 661 Rebecca Codd and, while world No 121 Stephanie Meadow is expected to be joined in Brazil by Galway born Irish-American Alison Walshe, who is 161st, Leona is clearly another option.

The 60-strong field for Rio will be filled from the Olympic Golf Ranking, which is based on the Rolex World Rankings that govern the women’s game. Leona appears to have no plans to turn professional just yet, as she has just finished the first year of her four-year degree alongside her twin sister Lisa at Duke University.

“The focus is on the European Ladies’ Team Championship in Denmark this week,” she said. “As for turning professional, as I said before, my focus is on the summer and the plan is still to go back to college in the autumn.

“If the results keep going my way, it’s a big stepping stone to bigger and better things, but my plan is to go back to Duke. We will just take it as it comes.”

Irish Olympic Golf boss Paul McGinley is clearly aware of Leona’s performances, but the Ballyconnell star said: “I haven’t spoken to Paul about it [the Olympics] at all.”

According to those who understand the nuances of the Olympic Golf qualifying system, the field of 60 women is likely to be filled from the top 250 in the world rankings. A minimum 40-event divisor will be used to calculate points, diluting those that Leona wins between now and the qualifying deadline of July 11, 2016.

Maguire revealed that she has been invited to the Evian Championship (September 10-13), one of the five LPGA Majors, and may try to pre-qualify for the Ricoh Women’s British Open next Monday.

If she produces another big performance or two, she may climb high enough to give McGinley food for thought, even if she remains an amateur.

Dunne and dusted for Walker Cup

The men’s European Amateur Team Championship teed off at Halmstad Golf Club in Sweden today with Ireland’s six-man team playing for more than just a first European title since those back-to-back triumphs at Western Gailes and Royal Park in Turin in 2007 and 2008.

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry were the respective leaders of those teams but it now falls to a new generation to fly the flag.

Having reached the final last year only to fall to Spain, the boys in green are doubly determined to win this year.

With the Walker Cup coming up in September, there has been much talk of four, five or even six Irishmen in the 10-man side.

But the rumour mill has also been in overdrive, with those who claim to be in the know insisting the status quo will be preserved and Ireland will get no more than three places between Cormac Sharvin, Gary Hurley, Jack Hume, Gavin Moynihan, Paul Dunne and Dermot McElroy.

Nothing works better than winning in these circumstances. Just a few days after Sharvin won the Brabazon Trophy to put one arm in the sleeve of his Great Britain and Ireland blazer, Dunne all but secured his place by winning Final Qualifying for The Open at Woburn.

University of Alabama head coach Alan Murray certainly has no doubts about Dunne as a Walker Cup prospect, as he told the American media earlier this year.

“They asked me about Paul and the Walker Cup earlier this year and I said if they have 10 guys better than him, I’d love to see that team,” Murray said last week. “I don’t think GB&I have 10 better guys.

“His short game is ridiculous, the best short game I have ever seen.

“He is just one of life’s winners — great student, gets A’s all the time in class, consistent across the board with everything he does.”

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