DES SMYTH, now 57, has already won the Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA Championship six times and quietly fancies his chances of a seventh title when the event gets underway over the Seapoint links, Termonfeckin, Co Louth this morning.
One good reason for Smyth’s optimism was his recent victory on the European Seniors Tour, a result that meant he has now won a tournament in each of the last five decades. Furthermore, he knows the course intimately, having designed it in the early 1990s along with former amateur international, Declan Branigan.
They were always optimistic that the project would be a winner, not least because it is located immediately alongside the great Baltray links and so boasted immaculate seaside turf ideal for their purpose.
At the time, Smyth and Branigan set up a company, Des Smyth and Associates, and among the other courses they created were Waterford Castle and Royal Tara. As Smyth concentrated more and more on developing his career in the senior arena, Branigan, who has a degree in general agriculture and a masters in soil science, combined with his equally well-qualified son Ronan to maintain his involvement with golf courses countrywide.
Seapoint is just one of those to benefit from their expertise and it will present a daunting but fair test for the 100th staging of the championship. It was first played in 1907 and famous names among the list of winners include Harry Bradshaw (10 times), Fred Daly (3), Christy O’Connor Senior (10), Norman Drew, Hugh Boyle, Jimmy Martin, Des Smyth (6), David Feherty (2), Philip Walton (4), Paul McGinley (4) and Pádraig Harrington (6), champion for each of the last three years.
Interestingly, each and every one of this distinguished group played in the Ryder Cup, the proximity of which on this occasion has prevented the participation of Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, McGinley and Darren Clarke.
In truth, it doesn’t help that the prize fund is just €30,000 but the Irish PGA Region are relieved that the support of Ladbrokes.com has enabled them to keep the championship going. And they have good reason to be happy, with the quality of the field, with European Tour regulars Shane Lowry — who, of course, enjoyed his greatest golfing moment next door at Baltray last year — and the ever consistent Damien McGrane among the contenders.
Des Smyth and Philip Walton will love the golf course and David Higgins, current leader of the region’s Race to Mount Juliet order of merit, is another very much at home by the sea and another in good form. Mark O’Sullivan from Galway and Clontarf’s Eamonn Brady were other recent winners on the domestic circuit well capable of making their presence felt.
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