‘South’ ready to regain sparkle as top-class field set for battle

With handicaps ranging from plus 4 to 1.1, the high quality of the entry for the West Coast Hotels sponsored South of Ireland Championship beginning at Lahinch this morning is a source of considerable satisfaction for the organising committee.

‘South’ ready to regain sparkle as top-class field set for battle

In recent years, the “South” has suffered from the plethora of amateur events taking place at this stage of the season.

World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) points have become the primary target of the leading players and it was with this situation in mind the GUI and the Lahinch club decided to alter the dates and to reintroduce 36 holes of qualifying with the leading 64 going forward to matchplay.

There is every promise of some fascinating golf over the next five days, starting with the two qualifying rounds today and tomorrow. Since Martin Hawtree introduced the changes to the links in 2001, it has become a much more formidable challenge and the target for the big guns will be the record of 66 set by Portmarnock’s Geoff Lenehan, Greg Mungovan (Headfort) and Ray Burke (Castle) four years ago.

Those with an eye on setting a new mark will be Irish internationals Robin Dawson (Faithlegg), Richard Bridges (Stackstown) and Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint).

Not to mention Gary Collins (Rosslare) and Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan who boast the lowest handicaps of plus 4 and plus 3 going into the championship.

Grehan captured the weather marred East of Ireland this year and Collins went all the way to the 20th before losing to John-Ross Galbraith in this month’s North of Ireland decider.

Waterford’s Eanna Griffin may well be a man to keep a close eye on.

He reached the semi-final 12 months ago only to lose to eventual winner Stuart Bleakley of Shandon Park and this year lost the West of Ireland final to Dermot McElroy having beaten Bridges in the semi. Bleakley defends the title and other former champions in the field include John Greene, Pat Murray, Justin Kehoe (a reinstated professional now playing out of Limerick), Stephen Walsh, Robbie Cannon and Peter Sheehan.

However, there was disappointing news yesterday of the withdrawal of Barry Reddan, winner back in 1987 and a regular at Lahinch for years because of a mishap while gardening.

Galway’s Ronan Mullarney, another to enjoy a good run in the North of Ireland, has also pulled out because of inter-varsity commitments with NUIG Maynooth.

Nothing pleases the many GUI personnel, who put so much time into the promotion of under-age golf more, than to see the youngsters make an impression in senior ranks.

Apart from Robin Dawson, there are several others in this week’s championship including Alan Lowry, a brother of top professional Shane; Rowan Lester of Hermitage and Mallow’s James Sugrue.

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