Inside Golf: Emerging stars to join world’s best at Irish Open

There will be some special guests at tomorrow’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Pro Am at Royal County Down, as two teams of young golfers from Shannon Golf Club in Clare and Faithlegg Golf Club in Waterford reap their reward for winning the inaugural Irish Open Golf Skills Challenge.

The new competition, hosted by the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI), which is the body responsible for supporting, promoting and developing the game of golf on the island of Ireland, attracted more than 60 under-15 teams from golf clubs across the four provinces. The boys of Faithlegg and girls from Shannon emerged victorious in their respective finals at the GUI National Golf Academy in Carton House.

The challenge, held in conjunction with The European Tour and supported by Sport Northern Ireland, was designed to encourage boys and girls aged under 15 to develop tee to hole skills in driving, iron play, chipping and putting, all in a team environment.

Each member of the four-player teams was allocated a certain skill and it was the Shannon Golf Club team of Leanne O’Shea, Ellie Pyke, Aine Healy and Katie McGrath which beat off stiff competition from three other winning provincial teams, runners-up Naas, Royal Co Down Ladies, and Galway.

Faithlegg quartet Cian Mooney, David Mahon, Rory Milne and Alex King performed similar heroics to edge out Seafield, Tandragee and Frankfield.

Both winners will be at Royal County Down tomorrow to attend the Irish Open Pro Am.

CGI director of golf and business development John Roche hailed the new competition.

“We were delighted that so many teams from across Ireland entered this great competition and the standard of entry was extremely high,” said Mr Roche. “All the teams that took part in the final put on a fantastic performance and we’re delighted to now have our winners. They will get to meet some of the world greats in the sport, which is a fantastic prize for budding young golfers.”

Noel Murray vows to be ‘more aggressive’ in Coventry final

Noel Murray made a successful title defence of the Galvin Green PGA Assistants Championship Irish qualifier at Co Meath GC in Trim.

The Massereene GC assistant will lead a 14-strong contingent from Ireland into the £32,500 championship final at Coventry GC in August and has promised to take a more aggressive approach to this year’s decider after scoring a one-shot victory at Co Meath with a two-under-par 71.

Murray edged out Neil O’Briain of Old Conna and Galway’s Patrick Small to book his third straight visit to the final in the English West Midlands, having finished 19th in 2013 and in the top 10 last year.

“I definitely want to finish higher again,” Murray said.

“It’s the kind of course where I know I’ll have to take a few chances and I won’t be afraid to do that. If you’re going to win at Coventry you’re going to have to shoot 12 to 16 under par.

“I know the venue now and I know there are chances to be had. I plan to play more aggressive golf this time.”

The 24-year-old final-year PGA trainee credited hard work put in with Dungannon-based swing coach Chris Jelly for his victory.

“I’ve been working with Chris for a couple of years and he’s helped my game a lot,” he said. “By the time Coventry comes around, I hope I’ll have any problems ironed out.

“It was wet and made life difficult and I had a couple of bogeys on the back nine, but I was happy to win and qualify for the final again,” said Murray.

David Barry of Douglas GC and Killeen’s Shane McCabe grabbed the final two qualifying places after they edged out David Allen of Roe Park in a play-off.

Dundalk ‘thrilled’ to host 105th PGA championship

Dundalk Golf Club has been celebrating the PGA in Ireland’s decision to make it hosts for this year’s 105th Irish PGA Championship.

The Louth venue, also the base for the PGA in Ireland for almost 30 years, will stage the event on October 1-4, with the Championship Pro-Am held on Wednesday, September 30, its first Irish PGA Championship since 1969.

Jimmy Martin won that year, succeeding the great Harry Bradshaw, who won on the only previous visit to Dundalk in 1953. That was Bradshaw’s eighth Irish title. The 6,826-yard, par 72 championship parkland course was redesigned by Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas in 1980.

The last 18 months have seen extensive improvement work to the course, with the installation of many new bunkers and improvements to the drainage of existing greenside traps, as well as some tree removal, with the sixth and 15th greens now more exposed to the elements.

“We are thrilled to be having the event and see it as a great opportunity to showcase Dundalk GC and the recent investment that has been made in the course,” said Dundalk GC captain Brendan Keane.

“There is a strong association with the event here in Dundalk, having hosted the tournament in 1953 and 1969.

“I know our membership will be really enthused by the prospect, especially as a result of our close association with the PGA in Ireland.”

The Irish PGA Championship is prestigious in its own right, but success also brings entry into the European Tour’s flagship tournament, the BMW PGA Championship. Last year’s winner at Adare Manor Golf Club was Niall Kearney, the Royal Dublin professional who last week at Wentworth gave a good account of himself before missing the cut by one stroke.

David Higgins wins in Athenry

Inside Golf: Emerging stars to join world’s best at Irish Open

Waterville professional David Higgins was back in the winner’s enclosure on the PGA in Ireland circuit last week, when he topped the leaderboard at the Murray Timber Group Athenry Pro-Am, in association with Investec.

Higgins, 42, was a recent winner at the Greystones Pro-Am, while at Athenry GC in Co Galway, he followed up with a three-under-par round of 67 to edge out the aforementioned Noel Murray of Massereene and Donal Gleeson of Old Conna by a shot.

The Kerryman had got off to a sticky start with a bogey at the first, but rebounded with birdies at the fourth and sixth to reach the turn in one-under 34. Solid golf on the back nine was rewarded with birdies at the 15th and 18th, as Higgins came home in two-under 33 to take first place.

Eamonn Brady of Galway GC placed fourth with a 69, while Damien Mooney tuned up for the Irish Open with a 70 to take a share of fifth place in a six-way tie.

Karl MacGinty sent off in style by old friends

It is not often that golf journalists honour their own, but there was a presentation in the BMW PGA Championship media centre on Sunday at Wentworth, as the Irish Independent’s Karl MacGinty was sent off into well-earned retirement by the Association of Golf Writers (AGW).

Karl filed copy for the final time at this year’s Masters and has filled his days writing a novel, but he took time out with his wife Mary to reunite with his colleagues one last time.

AGW secretary Bernie Maguire, he of this parish, organised a wonderful gift, a framed Masters hole flag signed by Ireland’s winning Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and the Irish stars who played Augusta this year, Darren Clarke, Pádraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy’s manager Sean O’Flaherty also arranged transportation of the gift back to Europe on the world number one’s private jet following his Wells Fargo Championship success in North Carolina... a much classier way to travel than Karl ever managed.

Happy retirement Mr MacGinty, you’ll be missed.


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