A week that could herald the beginning of the demise of Portmarnock Golf Club as the natural home for some of the game’s most prestigious events got under way yesterday with the first of two qualifying rounds for the 124th Amateur Championship. It remains the only club outside of the UK to stage the tournament, having done so for the one and only time in 1949 and now being honoured on this occasion to mark its 125th anniversary year.
However, the Royal & Ancient informed them recently that because of their men-only membership policy, they will not be considered for any others in the future by the game’s governing body. Portmarnock have responded by agreeing to look at the possibility of admitting women, with a vote likely by the end of the year.
Apart from the Amateur Championship, another of the R&A’s flagship events, the Walker Cup, has also been held at Portmarnock, which would come very much into the reckoning to stage a first ever Open Championship in the Republic should the ban on female membership be lifted.
While championship director Niall Goulding and his team will once again be demonstrating this week how worthy Portmarnock would be, all things being equal, to stage golf’s greatest championship, such vexed matters will be a long way from the minds of the 288 players (18 Irish) from 37 countries who teed up yesterday in the first of two qualifying rounds for the Amateur Championship at Portmarnock and its near neighbour, The Island.
Home club hopes were high that the exploits of previous Irish champions like the legendary Joe Carr and Jimmy Bruen could be emulated on this occasion by the likes of Conor Purcell, a son of former professional Joey and winner of the Australian Championship in January.
But he found it tough going at The Island and signed for a five-over-par 76, the same mark as another well-fancied member of the home brigade, Rowan Lester of Hermitage. It was an even tougher day for the equally well fancied James Sugrue (Mallow) and Robert Cannon (Balbriggan), both 77, Kinsale’s St Andrews Trophy winner John Murphy, 78, and Peter O’Keefe (Douglas), 79.
The leading Irish players after day one are Robert Moran (Castle), James Fox (Portmarnock) and Eanna Griffin (Waterford) 73; Devin Morley (Oughterard) and Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk), 74, and Ronan Mullarney (Galway), Tom McKibbin (Holywood) and Paul Coughlan (Castleknock), 75, and Geoff Lenihan (Portmarnock), 76.
The first round leaders after four-under-par rounds of 67 at The Island are Harry Hall (West Cornwall) and Ayoub Ssoudi (Morocco) with the German Anton Albers leading the way at Portmarnock with a four-under 68.
The leading 64 after 36 holes of qualifying tonight go forward to matchplay, with the 36-hole final set for Saturday.