Irish Amateur Golf Review 2018
The past year in Irish amateur golf will be hailed as a major milestone as the seeds of change were sewn.
When the GUI and the ILGU, in mid-January, vote on the proposal to combine it is almost certain that a new golf body will be born on the Emerald Isle.
During the past months the four Provincial Councils have had their say on the proposal to unite both bodies under the banner of Golf Ireland and the support for the idea has been overwhelmingly positive.
With heavyweights like Iggy Ó Muircheartaigh and Pat Finn behind the major move who can fail to listen? 2018 can go down in history as a new beginning for amateur golf in Ireland.
Meanwhile, the normal business of the GUI and the ILGU continued during the past year with a full list of fixtures completed at both national and international level.
Robin Dawson from Tramore has been making a name for himself over the past few years and really stamped his name on the big time when he won the men's Flogas Irish Open Championship, at Royal County Down, in May, beating off English invader James Gough and Dubliner Alex Gleeson by four strokes.
However, Dawson failed to make it an Irish Championship double as he missed the Irish Close, at The European Club in August because of playing in America at the time.
The Close was won by Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan) who defeated Wentworth player Eoin Leonard, who qualified to enter because of Irish parentage, by 2&1. Gleeson and Conor Purcell were the beaten semi-finalists.
In the men's European Championship, at The Hague in June, Dawson was again to the fore as he finished second, just one stroke behind Danish winner Nicolai Hojgaard.
For the first time, the World Team Championships were staged in Ireland at Carlton House in September with Denmark, including Hojgaard, at the top of the leaderboard, one stroke ahead of USA. Ireland tied tenth with Germany while Dawson was 13th individual.
There was major disappointment in the men's Home Internationals at Conwy as Ireland lost out to England by half-a-point on countback. Both had beaten Scotland and Wales while, on the last day, England defeated Ireland 9-6 to snatch the Raymond Trophy.
The Provincial Championships were, as usual, hotly contested with the normal 300 entrants for the North of Ireland Championship proving, once again, a minefield for fancied players.
Ian Lynch from Rosslare and English man Kieran Babbage proved the surprise packets by reaching the final with 'holiday golfer' Lynch winning by 2&1.
The West of Ireland Championship, at Co Sligo, is traditionally the real opener of the season and that was won by Naas international Robert Brazill with a one hole result over Alex Gleeson (Castle) on April 3. Co Louth stages the East event in June and the title was taken off to South Africa by Charles Lampracht by two strokes from Kilkenny teenager Mark Power.
Wrapping up the men's Provincial Championships is the South of Ireland tournament at Lahinch in July and that was won by Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) who beat former North winner Lester Rowan (Hermitage) at the 20th in a shootout.
The AIG Cups and Shields competitions are the big club affairs and Ulster missed out on any silverware in October 2018, at Thurles. Portmarnock defeated Royal Portrush 4-1 in the Senior cup final, Portumna had the same result over Fortwiliam in the Junior Cup decider, Athenry overcame Dundalk by three holes in the Barton Shield, the Pierce Purcell Shield was won (4-1) by Nenagh who beat Athlone while Kinsale collected the Jimmy Bruen Shield after beating Hermitage 3-2 in the final.
The men's Interprovincial Tournament was played at Athenry with Munster sensationally winning the title.
Geoff Lenehan beat Alan Fahy with a par at the 18th, in the last match to win the crown for Munster while a half match would have given Ulster the title.
Ulster retained the Boys' U16 title at Slieve Russell on countback of points won.
During the past year, Irish Ladies' amateur golf lost both Leona and Lisa Maguire to the professional game as both turned professional after successfully completing their studies in North Carolina but that didn't stop Ulster from taking the Women's Interprovincial Championship title back from Leinster, at Castle Dargan in July.
Missing, too, were Curtis Cup players Paula Grant (Lisburn) and Olivia Mehaffey (Royal County Down). That is four of the top players in Europe.
After a tremendous afternoon fightback, the Red Hand girls defeated Leinster coming strong from being level with 10 holes to go. Lucy Simpson (Royal Portrush), Louise Coffey (Malone), Jessica Ross (Clandeboye) and Cloe Weir (Shandon Park) all won.
Leinster retained the Girls' interpro title for a third year in a row with a tie for second place between Ulster, Munster and Connacht.
The Women's Irish Open Strokeplay Championship was played at Co Louth in May and the trophy was taken to Scotland by Hannah Cook, who a week earlier had won the Welsh Open. She finished two strokes clear of Ria Meekers from The Netherlands with Paula Grant best of the Irish in a tie for third place.
Teenager Sara Byrne (Douglas) was the surprise winner of the Irish Close Championship, at Enniscrone in June when she beat Louise Coffey 2&1 in the final but the Munster girl failed to make history by becoming the first teenager to win both the girls' and the women's titles in the same year. She failed to take home the girls' trophy from Clandeboye in July. Kate Lanigan (Hermitage) won that title with a 6&5 blitz of Valerie Clancy (Killarney).
Ireland hosted the Home International Matchers at Killarney in August but failed to keep the trophy at home – only after losing out in a countback following Scotland, England and Ireland all finishing level after two wins each. On points difference Ireland was pushed back into third place as Scotland won the trophy ahead of England.
In fact, the Irish didn't do too well on home soil during the year. Roganstown was the venue for the Girls' Irish Open Championship with first and second places going to Swedish players. Kajsa Arefjall on 217 edged Louise Rydavist off the top of the leaderboard by one stroke. Nicola Joyce-Moreno (Royal Portrush) was joint ninth and best of the Irish.
Once again, Royal Portrush won the Ulster section of the Irish Senior Cup, by beating Royal County Down, but failed to extend their success in the national final at Knock in August. Lahinch, with a final 4.5 to 0.5 defeat of Elm Park, took the title to Co Clare. The Ulster winners were knockout in the quarter-finals (3.5 to 1.5) by the ultimate winners while RCD lost by the same result, also in the quarter-finals.
The All-Ireland Inter-Club Championship was also played at Knock in August and Holywood overcame Killarney 3-2 in the final, after beating Co Louth 2.5 to 0.5 in the semis.