Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shane Lowry Wins Irish Open

In his first ever professional tournament amateur golfer Shane Lowry has won The 2009 Irish Open in a three hole playoff over the fine links layout at Baltray, Ireland. This is an amazing accomplishment for Lowry as he was rated as a five handicap golfer going into this event. He is only the third amateur to win a European PGA event. What makes this all the more remarkable was his win was achieved under some of the most adverse playing conditions imaginable. The third round play was halted for several hours due to winds in excess of 30 miles per hour that were accompanied by steady stinging rain. The final round action was delayed two hours at its start for the same reason. Had he been a professional golfer, Lowry would have taken home the first place prize of 500,000 Euros. Instead the second place finisher, Robert Rock, from England took home the first place money. The unflappable Lowry will no doubt become legendary in Irish golf as he is only the third Irishman, pro or amateur, to win this event in 27 years.

County Louth, or Baltray, as it is commonly called is a very good example of “links golf”. The course near Drogheda is located along the coastal corridor between Dublin and the Northern Ireland border. Its close proximity to Dublin gives it a higher level of play than many links courses in Ireland that are more geographically remote. Our group last played County Louth in 2005. This trip was cursed by the non-arrival of the entire group’s clubs and luggage. Our clubs showed up just in time for our second stop at Baltray. Conditions were favorable and led to such an enjoyable round that we played the course twice. Afterwards we enjoyed a delightful dinner in the club restaurant. The clubhouse was once a golf hotel in its former life. Today lodging for twelve is still available for golfers in the “dormy house” upstairs over the dining area.

Shane Lowry honed his golfing skills on a Christy O’Connor Jr. course named Esker Hills located in the center of the country in County Offaly. Although an inland course, Esker Hills has a links flavor due to its steeply rolling sand hills and all weather greens. No doubt there was a great celebration inside the Esker Hills clubhouse on this windy and rainy day today. Certainly there were here many pints of lager downed all over Ireland after this event.

Congratulations Shane Lowry. Our hat’s off today for you. When we next arrive in Ballyliffin, Ireland in July our first pint will be downed in your honor!
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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Narin and Portnoo Golf Club- The One that Got Away

In a recent post, I told of Connor Mallon accepting the position of Head Golf Professional at Narin and Portnoo Golf Club in County Donegal, Ireland. Connor is a well deserving guy who we wish well in his new position. What I did not know was that Narin and Portnoo apparently is a very good golf course. We came close to this course in 2003 when we played the great little nine hole course Cruit Island which is near the Donegal Airport at Carrickfin. We were not far from this course in July of 2008 when we drove from Donegal to Ballyliffin.

If we had just turned west at Donegal we would have gone through the picturesque little fishing village of Killybegs and then a short drive would have gotten us to Narin and Portnoo. A good website is a great advertisement for a good golf course. This is how I found Cruit Island in 2003. Now Narin and Portnoo has invested in a website that is first class and gives great photos of the course. Also from the size of the purse paid in their Pro-Am event played a month before the Ballyliffin Pro-Am this is quite a popular place. The picture above is from Narin and Portnoo #10. For more great photos of every hole click on the link below.

Check it out at www.narinportnoogolfclub.ie/Coursephotos.html
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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Irish Professional Golfers - Meet them by Playing in Pro-Ams on Your Ireland Golf Trip

In 2001 (after our first small group visited in 1999), we took our first large group of golfers to the annual Ballyliffin Pro-Am tournament in Ireland. We had entered three teams into the tournament with twelve amateur golfers, which with each team’s pro member made four to a group. Proper application had been made and fees paid to the Irish Region PGA office in Dundalk and we were all set for the tournament, or so we thought. As one of our teams arrived at the tee, they discovered that their Pro, Geoff Bleakley, from Balmoral Golf Club in Belfast had brought his own team with him without notifying the PGA office. This was a catastrophe for the three members of our group who had come a long way to participate in this tournament. Officials put their heads together and quickly came up with a plan. A call was made to Buncrana, a town just twenty minutes from the club. It seems a young man by the name of Connor Mallon who lived in Buncrana was home for a visit after a stint on a mini-tour golf circuit in the United States. As our group stood by the tee, Connor made a fast trip up to Ballyliffin. Connor was a great golfer, a better golfer than the one who had been assigned to the team. Their assigned Pro, Geoff Bleakley, was embarrassed for the trouble he had caused. When he returned on Sunday for the second day of the tournament, he brought with him gifts out of his golf shop at Balmoral for each of our members who had been displaced. The next year Geoff served as President of the PGA Professionals in Ireland and happened also to be the assigned Pro for my group at the Ballyliffin Tournament. Connor Mallon became a great friend to our group. The next year Connor was working as assistant Pro at Ballyliffin and continued working there off and on for several years up until 2008. His team always fared well in the tournament events due to his contribution. In 2008 Connor accepted an offer to become head Golf Professional at Narin and Portnoo Golf Club which sits near the villages of Narin and Portnoo in the south of County Donegal. With his personality and golf game, they could not have made a better choice.

In Ireland, aspiring club golf professionals are not only allowed, but encouraged, to participate in the Pro-Am events held at different golf clubs each spring and summer weekend. Some of these are one day events but most are two day tournaments such as are held At Ballyliffin Golf Club over their two links courses, The Old Links and Glashedy Links. In this system, young golf pros can hone their skills in a tournament event on a regular basis giving them the exposure it takes to improve to the level that is required to make it on the European PGA Tour Circuit. They can also win substantial sums of money in these tournaments if they win or finish high enough in the standings. Ballyliffin due to its possessing two great championship courses has the largest Pro-Am tournament in all of Europe with a total of 104 teams entered each year. The tournament has been over subscribed in each of the last several years that it has been held. This event was begun in 1995 and our group first played in the tournament in 1999.

In addition to Connor Mallon, we have been fortunate to meet numerous young aspiring pros at the Ballyliffin Pro-Am event. For several years a favorite has been Seamus Clinton, a very nice young man from Letterkenny and Portsalon where he grew up in a house adjacent to one of the fairways at Portsalon Golf Club. Portsalon is a very difficult links style course that sits on the opposite shore of the Lough Swilley across from the Inishowen Peninsula where Ballyliffin is located. The amateur prizes, in these tournaments, are always some form of Irish crystal. Teams led by Seamus Clinton have won crystal at least twice since we have participated.

This year Seamus was again a member of one of our teams. Our other pros were Simon Thornton playing out of Royal County Down, Ian St John playing out of Nenagh, and Eddie Tracey playing out of Ballina. Eddie Tracey and Simon Thornton tied for first place in the standings for individual pro scores, each shooting seven under par over the two days. Eddie Tracey shot a miraculous seven under par the first day and hung on at level par for the second day to gain a tie. Each of them along with Philip Walton, a former European Ryder Cup member, and Michael Collins won a total of 3,250 GB Pounds Sterling as they finished in a four way tie.

The amount of their winnings perked my interest so I made a visit to the Irish Region PGA website to see how our favorite pros have fared in other tournaments this year. Last year Connor Mallon and Seamus Clinton finished in a tie for first place in the Cairndhu Golf Club Pro-Am event which is held the week following the Ballyliffin tournament.

Here are some winnings for these guys this year:

Narin & Portnoo Pro-Am - 28th – 29th June 2008
Simon Thornton – Tied 7th - 1,000 GBP
John Dolan – (Ballyliffin Pro) Tied 14th - 670 GBP
Seamus Clinton - Tied 16th - 554 GBP
Connor Mallon - Tied 21st - 298 GBP
Edward Tracey - Tied 21st - 298 GBP

Dunfanaghy Pro-Am – 19th – 20th July 2008
John Dolan - Tied 10th - 580 GBP
Connor Mallon Tied 10th - 580 GBP
Ian St John 46th - -0-

Ballyliffin Pro-Am – 26th – 27th July 2008
Simon Thornton Tied 1st - 3,250 GBP
Eddie Tracey Tied 1st - 3,250 GBP
Francis Howley (former Pro Ballyliffin) 5th - 1,500 GBP
John Dolan 8th - 875 GBP
Connor Mallon Tied 20th - 362 GBP
Brendan McDermott 50th - 44 GBP
Seamus Clinton Tied 55th - -0-

Cairndhu Pro-Am – 31st July – 1st August 2008
Connor Mallon Tied 6th 570 GBP
Brendan McDermott Tied 8th 447 GBP
Seamus Clinton Tied 22nd 155 GBP

Navan Pro-Am 8th August 2008
Brendan McDermott (previous pro) Tied 4th 667 GBP
Simon Thornton Tied 7th 490 GBP

Cork Pro-Am – 11th August 2008
Brendan McDermott Tied 2nd 1,200 GBP
Eddie Tracey Tied 4th 828 GBP
Ian St John Tied 17th 380 GBP
Seamus Clinton Tied 29th -0-

Fred Daly Pro-Am Balmoral GC 14th August 2008
Brendan McDermott Tied 10th 212 GBP
Seamus Clinton Tied 14th 160 GBP

Kilkea Castle Pro-Am 15th August, 2008
Seamus Clinton Tied 10th 504 GBP

AA Business Ins. Cup 20th -21st August 2008 Grenore Golf ClubSimon Thornton * Tied 2nd 1,050 GBP
Eddie Tracey Tied 19th 162 GBP

Greystones Pro-Am 25th August 2008
Seamus Clinton ** Tied 10th 400 GBP
Simon Thornton Tied 10th 400 GBP

* Simon Thornton finished tied for first at Grenore but lost in a shoot out to tie for second.

** Seamus Clinton seems to be following these events full time. He gives lessons at a driving range in Letterkenny but I hardly see where he has time to do any teaching.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Great Golfer Series - Windell Humphries

I first met Windell in the late 1990’s in Auburn, Alabama while playing in a local scramble tournament. Windell walked out onto the course to visit with a close friend, Steve Autrey, who was playing in our group. At that time, Windell was around sixty years old. Later I would become a member of the Auburn Links Golf Club where Windell was a member. It didn’t take long for me to discover just how accomplished a golfer Windell was. On Saturdays, a large group of low to mid handicap golfers would assemble for an 8:30 A.M. dogfight. The first hole at Auburn Links is a medium distance par four hole which requires a golfer to twice pass over a bending Parkerson’s Mill Creek. One Saturday morning, Windell drove his ball from the member’s tee onto the green on this par four hole rolling his ball amongst a group of golfers that were putting on the green. Windell claimed he didn’t know he could hit the ball this far, but we all accused him of trying to shake up the group on the green. Extraordinary shots seemed to come often for Windell after that day. He duplicated this same feat on the same hole playing with the Secretary at a Hooters tournament at Auburn Links a couple of years ago. He hit his ball onto this same green in one and proceeded to make a fifty foot eagle putt.

In 1999, Windell made his first trip with our group of six Dal Riadans to play the links courses of Northern Ireland and the northwest courses of the Republic. When we arrived at Royal County Down, we encountered a group of Japanese men and women who were teeing off just before us. We were playing in two groups of three with Windell playing in the group behind us. It was immediately apparent that the members of this Japanese group had either never played golf or were not nearly accomplished enough to be playing a course as difficult as Royal County Down. After interminable waits on the first two holes due to the flailing of this Japanese group, their caddies apparently convinced them to wave our first group through on hole three. This left Windell’s group stuck behind the beginners, but not for long. After we finished putting out on the signature par three fourth hole, our group climbed the long series of steps that lead to the fifth tee box. The Japanese party had reached the area of the green on hole four as we were preparing to hit our tee shots on hole five. As the fourth green cannot be seen from the fifth tee ground area, we were startled when suddenly we heard a cacophony of squeals and shouts coming from behind us. We rushed back over the ridge that blocked our line of sight to see what had happened. The Japanese were jumping up and down screaming wildly. Windell’s group had been waved through the Japanese and Windell had promptly scored a hole-in-one on this magnificent 175/215 yard hole. This was the second hole-in-one of Windell’s career. Since then he has had three more. Ironically the Secretary has a little something in common with Windell. Each of us has a hole-in-one on hole sixteen at Auburn Links Golf Club.

Since 1999, Windell has often traveled with our group to play the great links courses of Ireland and the British Isles. As we have timed our trips to facilitate our playing in Ballyliffin Golf Club’s Annual Pro-Am golf tournament, it has fallen that Windell’s birthday has for several years occurred while we are in Ireland. This year we all sang Happy Birthday to Windell at Gilroy’s Restaurant in Enniscrone, Ireland. Our boisterous singing brought an enthusiastic round of applause from all the Irish patrons dining in the packed restaurant that Thursday night. The photo accompanying this post is Windell and caddy Barry at Ballyliffin in 1999.

While playing a nine hole match in the Wynlakes Golf Club’s Member/Guest in June 2008, Windell birdied the first three holes of our match against the winning team. We beat this team 6 1/2 to 3 1/2 but lost to them on points. We did not lose a match, beat the winning team, but still finished second due to the point scoring method employed in this tournament. Windell had numerous other birdies in this tournament which helped us land the second place finish in our bracket.

Windell also scored one of his holes-in-one at Moores Mill Golf Club in 2005 in a Member/Member tournament which helped carry his two man team to a first place finish in the tournament.Prior to his leaving for this year’s trip in 2008 Windell shot his age or under several times. In 2007, he shot a “two under his age” 66 at Moores Mill Golf Club in Auburn picking up eight birdies for the round.
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