Open return in 2025 puts Royal Portrush back in the spotlight

September 9, 2021

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive, the R&A, David Meacher, Chairman Professional Championships Committee, the R&A, Paul Givan, Northern Ireland First Minister, Declan Kearney, MLA Junior Minister, Gordon Lyons, MLA, NI Minister for the Economy and Dr Ian Kerr, Captain of Royal Portrush

News that the Open Championship will return to Royal Portrush in 2025 was hardly unexpected but the official announcement of the worst kept secret in golf still provoked general delight.
“The return of The Open Championship is great news for the club, the local community, the Northern Ireland economy, and Irish golf,” said club captain, Dr Ian Kerr.
“From our club’s perspective, the return of one of the biggest sporting events in the world is the recognition of the wonderful work done by all involved in 2019 and endorses a global status of the Dunluce Links as one of the top ten golf courses in the world.”
The R&A had initially committed to bringing three Open Championships to Portrush over a period of 30 years but there had never been any firm guarantees on when those events would be staged.
“The more we thought about it and the more we looked at how to develop The Open and the extraordinary scenes that we had that week that were different, that felt different, we increasingly came to the conclusion that there was something special about an Open here that will be good and that, if we delayed coming back, we may lose some of that magic,” said the R&A chief executive, Martin Slumbers.

“So coming back sooner became a real conversation for us to reinforce that and hopefully cement Royal Portrush and The Open in the history of our sport.”

The Open generated more than £100 million for the economy of Northern Ireland two years ago, attracting a record attendance for the Championship outside of St Andrews of 237,750 fans throughout the week. More than 5,400 hours of television coverage were broadcast to hundreds of millions of viewers globally as Shane Lowry performed superbly to become Champion Golfer of the Year and lift the famous Claret Jug.
Unfortunately, the pandemic effectively scuppered any attempts to build on that momentum.
Golf, the club itself, the town of Portrush and the North Coast as a whole was unable to fully capitalise on the publicity created by hosting the tournament.
Dr Kerr continued; “Maintaining the Dunluce Links at the level expected of a global top ten course requires continual investment in our facilities, and the impact of the global pandemic meant we were unable to benefit from the financial dividend of hosting the 2019 Open Championship because overseas visitors were simply unable to travel. So the return of the event in 2025 is a welcome boost not only to the club but indeed the local community.
“Royal Portrush is very much embedded in that local community, and the return of The Open Championship is great news for the economy of the local area and indeed Northern Ireland.  So whilst it feels we have barely caught our breath since the excitement of 2019, we are really looking forward to putting on an even better event in 2025 that showcases in the world the beauty of the Causeway Coast.
“Finally, golf is a sport where Irish golfers punch above their weight, both at amateur and professional level. We have enjoyed the major winning exploits of Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke, and Shane Lowry.
“Most recently, we have enjoyed the outstanding performance of Leona Maguire in the Solheim Cup. So bringing The Open Championship back to Royal Portrush is a great boost for the sport on the island of Ireland. And one never knows, perhaps in 2025 we can enjoy the excitement of another Irish winner.”

Lurgan’s Annabel Wilson primed to play key role in GB&I Curtis Cup bid

August 26, 2021

Annabel Wilson with coach Peter Martin

In-form Annabel Wilson is primed to play a key role for GB&I this week in the Curtis Cup (August 26-28) at Conwy Golf Club in Wales.
GB&I will go into the event as underdogs and with only one player – Annabel Fuller – returning from the 2018 staging but Wilson, a veteran of numerous Irish teams at both junior and senior level, isn’t phased by GB&I’s lack of Curtis Cup experience.
“We have a very strong team,” said Annabel who will be making her Curtis Cup debut.
“Experience can sometimes be overrated. It can work both ways.”
It’s difficult to argue with the UCLA golfer who has played Vagliano Trophy at both junior and senior level and lined up for Ireland in the 2018 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship.
That team know-how hasn’t been missed by GB&I captain Elaine Radcliffe who also commented on Annabel’s, ‘experience going back a number of years, having broken through when she was incredibly young, doing what she did at the World Team.”
The Curtis Cup is the most prestigious team trophy for women amateur golfers and is contested biennially by teams representing Great Britain and Ireland and the United States.
First played in 1932, the match is organised by The R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA) with this year’s staging taking place a year later than scheduled as a result of the pandemic.
The event is competed for over three days with 20 points on offer. The winner of each match scores a point for their team, with ½ point for any match that is tied after 18 holes.
On each of the first two days, three foursomes and three fourball matches are played.
On the final day, the match takes the form of eight singles matches. If the match is tied at the end of play, the previous holders of the trophy retain the Curtis Cup.
USA regained the Curtis Cup at Quaker Ridge Golf Club after a 17-3 victory over GB&I. Team USA’s win was by the largest margin in Curtis Cup history.
Annabel has long been recognised as a fantastic talent with her ball-striking particularly admired. The player herself believes that her game is more rounded than before with all aspects ‘levelling up’.
In her last competitive outing, at the recent Home Internationals, she won all three of her singles matches to provide a useful confidence boost ahead of this week’s challenge in Wales.
“I played nicely. In the past, I’d have relied on my long game but I’ve worked hard on my short game and I’m converting more putts,” she said.
Annabel and fellow Irish international, Lauren Walsh (both competing in the event for the first time) follow in the footsteps of recent Irish players including Olympians Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire, and Olivia Mehaffey.
The 20-year-old Wilson also has a fair amount of self-belief and inner steel about her. When she won the Irish Women’s title in 2019 she came from two down with two to play to beat Lisburn’s Paula Grant on the first play-off hole.
Her resolve and that of the entire team will be tested this week on the Conwy links where home advantage could be an important leveller.
“That’s the way it seems to go in team events,” added Annabel.
“Home advantage is very beneficial. We had a couple of early group sessions at Conwy and I like the course, it’s a great test.
“Finding fairways will be essential. It’s going to be something of a mental challenge and you have to be in the right mindset to play it.”

Thornton grabs NI Masters title at Clandeboye

August 22, 2021

Tournament host Jonny Caldwell (left) with winner Simon Thornton.

Simon Thornton fired a final round 67 (-4) to win The Northern Ireland Masters hosted by Jonathan Caldwell at Clandeboye GC.
The Newcastle based professional, who opened his campaign with an outstanding 11 under par, bogey-free 60 finished two shots clear of England’s David Langley to end the 54-hole tournament on 14-under par.
Simon, who began the final round one shot behind the leader Joe Brooks, was bogey-free on a tricky final day where thick fog kept players off the course until 2pm.
The shotgun start got everyone underway at the same time but Thornton, a former European Tour winner and two-time Irish PGA champion, used all his experience to limit the mistakes and record birdies at the sixth, 13, 15, and 17.
The Tulfarris Resort attached professional said: “When you shoot 60 on the first day everybody expects you to win but really yesterday [round two] was a great round of golf, one over par. Then it came to today and I have to say the weather suited me. Hitting those little punch shots in. I’m delighted.
“Everybody in this country loves golf. We all love golf. So many golf courses and so much passion for the game. So to have so many come and watch and to watch Jonathan (Caldwell) is just fantastic)”
Overnight leader Joe Brooks struggled to get going on the last day after an early birdie at six with back-to-back bogeys to find himself one back from the lead at the turn. Brooks of Hanbury Manor was fighting on the back nine but it wasn’t to be, finishing fourth.
Mitch Waite was two back at the start of play but birdies at four, five, and six midway through the front nine meant the Filton Golfer had hit the top of the leaderboard.
Waite dropped a shot at eight though which was the beginning of the end for his day settling for third after a birdie on 18 and a level par final round.
Ireland’s Stuart Grehan also had his best finish of the season to take solo seventh after a final round of level par.
Highlights from The Northern Ireland Masters supported by Jonathan Caldwell at Clandeboye Golf Club will air on Sky Sports Golf on Tuesday 31, August at 6pm with several other showings scheduled.

The Northern Ireland Masters hosted by Jonathan Caldwell at Clandeboye GC.

 

Higgins grinds out Irish PGA Championship win at Carne Golf Links

August 12, 2021

David Higgins claims the Irish PGA Championship at Carne Golf Links
(Photo by Patrick Bolger/Getty Images)

David Higgins (Waterville Links) birdied the last to edge out overnight leader, Mark Staunton (Mark Staunton Golf) and win a second Irish PGA Championship title at Carne Golf Links.
In very wet and windy conditions, the 2012 winner capitalised on an 18th hole double-bogey from Staunton to seal victory.
“I knew I was a couple behind so I had to commit to the tee shot, try to take it on and make eagle,” said David.
“I hit my best drive of the week and then hit a seven iron into 15 feet (he missed the eagle but tapped in for an easy par).
“I guess it put some pressure on. Look, Mark was unlucky, but you have to hang in, especially in conditions like today.
“You never know what is going to happen. All you can do it work on your own ball and I did that and won the tournament. I am proud of myself for that.”
Higgins began the day five shots behind Staunton but by the 12th he had cut that lead to three shots.
With the other contenders struggling – winds were gusting at 35mph – the closing holes turned into something of a match-play encounter.
Playing the 18th, Higgins found the green in two but Staunton’s approach missed the green and disappeared into the thick rough never to be found.
His provisional had also missed the green but he managed to find it and pitched onto the putting surface however, his putt to force a play-off stayed out.
“It’s been a tough time for everyone with Covid. I haven’t played golf for the last eight and half months,” added Higgins.
“I didn’t know if I was coming or going to be honest but this shows I am on the right track.
“I am at it long enough now to know that anything can happen when the weather is like that you have to keep trying and dig deep.
“Keep going to the very end, that’s what happened and I am after winning a huge tournament.”
Defending champion, Simon Thornton (Tulfarris Golf Resort) and Richard Kilpatrick (Banbridge GC) finished joint third on even par.

Irish PGA Championship leaderboard

Thornton to defend Irish PGA Championship crown at Carne Golf Links

July 31, 2021

Carne Golf Links

The magnificent rugged Carne Golf Links will play host to the Irish PGA Championship from August 5-7.
The 54-hole tournament is back on the schedule following last year’s coronavirus enforced postponement and will be preceded on August 4th by a Pro-Am sponsored by Vermillion.
Defending champion. Simon Thornton (Tulfarris Golf Resort), and many of Ireland’s leading PGA professionals will battle for a slice of the €40,000 prize fund put up by Erris Tourism Holdings Ltd, the course owners.
Former champions, Tim Rice (Limerick GC), Damian Mooney (Damian Mooney Golf) and David Higgins (Waterville Links) have confirmed their place in the field alongside serial winners on the PGA circuit, Colm Moriarty (Glasson Lakehouse), Richard Kilpatrick (Banbridge GC) and Liam Grehan (The K Club).
“The Irish PGA Championship, a constant on the Irish sports calender for over a century, has been disrupted on just two previous occasions – for the first world war, and last year with the pandemic,” said Conor Dillon, PGA in Ireland Regional Manager.
“So this year’s staging at Carne has added significance for everyone. We’re looking forward to staging a safe and secure tournament at one of Ireland’s leading links venues. Our thanks to everyone at Carne for opening the doors to us and the sponsors for supporting the event.”
The event will mark the official opening of the Wild Atlantic Dunes course at Carne Golf Links.
The original 18-hole course that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s west coast in County Mayo was the last to be designed by the celebrated architect Eddie Hackett and was completed in 1995.
An additional nine holes known as the Kilmore, which was opened in 2013, plus the back nine of the Hackett course form the Wild Atlantic Dunes – the stage for a tournament that was first contested in 1907.
Chairman of Carne Golf Links, Gerry Maguire: “On behalf of the Board of Turasoireacht Iorrais Teo (Carne Golf Links) we are delighted to be hosting the Irish PGA Championship 2021 on our magnificent new Wild Atlantic Dunes course at Carne.
“I would like to welcome all the visiting Pros, their families and friends, to Carne, for what I know will be a great test of golf in dramatic and spectacular surroundings, amongst the highest dunescape in the world, and I wish them all the very best of luck in the tournament.
“It is a great honour for Carne and the Erris region to be able to host this prestigious tournament, one of the first in a Gaeltacht region, and we are looking forward to the staging of a hugely successful event to be enjoyed by all. It is only made possible by the support of our sponsors, Columbia Sportswear, and Vermilion Energy LTD, who deserve huge accolades for their involvement, particularly after such a challenging eighteen months due to the pandemic.
“We look forward to working with the Irish PGA and continuing our long standing relationship to ensure a very successful Championship for all.”
Tim Boyle, Chairman/President/CEO of Columbia Sportswear added; “The twining of Gearhart Golf Links, one of the oldest golf courses in the United States, and Carne, one of the most renowned golf courses in Ireland, has introduced avid golfers from both countries to the special camaraderie that golf provides. Columbia Sportswear is proud to sponsor the Irish PGA Championship contested at Carne as well as the United States Hickory Open played at Gearhart Golf Links.”

Mehaffey embracing new experiences as rookie professional at ISPS World Invitational

July 26, 2021

There’s a first time for everything. Earlier this week Olivia Mehaffey was forced to find some shade while practicing at Royal County Down.
“Normally I’m going inside to put the heater on so I can warm up,” said the 23-year-old who is based in Arizona these days and well used to extreme temperatures.
“The weather is unbelievable, I never thought I’d be saying ‘I better go into the studio to get out of the sun for a minute’. It’s crazy.”
Olivia will make her first start as a professional in the ISPS Handa World Invitational this week.
The Banbridge born golfer will be the focus of attention in the absence of Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow who are representing Ireland in the Olympic Games.
“I am really excited for next week and I know there is going to be some pressure,” she added.
“Hopefully there will be plenty of familiar faces out watching but you know, I love that.
“I’ve played Curtis Cups at home (Dun Laoghaire GC, 2016) and I’ve played National Championships in Arizona. I’ve faced so many things and I love that challenge.
“I want to have a great week. I want to enjoy it and I want to take it all in.

“At the end of the day, I have been a professional for three months and I’m just trying to get as much experience now as I can.”

A total of 288 players (144 men, 144 women) will arrive at Galgorm and Massereene for tournament week (July 28 – August 1) to compete in two separate 72-hole stroke play events at the same time, at the same venues.
The ISPS HANDA World Invitational stands out as the only tri-sanctioned event in the northern hemisphere where players from the three tours come together in an innovative and inclusive mixed event with equal prize money up for grabs.
With so many players competing from the men’s and women’s game, there is genuine depth in the field; Ryder Cup players, multiple tour winners plus former Irish Open champions.
Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell, a winner on the European Tour at the Scandanavian Mixed in June will be in action alongside Cormac Sharvin, Tom McKibbin and in form Irish man Niall Kearney.
The women’s field was recently finalised with further star names confirmed including former Women’s British Open champion Georgia Hall and Solheim Cup team mate Charley Hull. In all the field boasts no less than six Major wins, 31 LPGA wins, 13 LET wins and nine Solheim Cup players.
Olivia won’t be one of the favourites this week but she is content with the state of her game after spending the best part of nine weeks on the road playing in mini-tour events.
“I almost just dived into the deep end and played a lot of golf,” she added.
“I think I have learned a lot from it. I look back and I’m glad I did it but getting home has given me the chance to get a wee break.
“My goal is to get some status on tour through Q-School but I had that window to play and I wanted to try and stay competitive while getting comfortable as a professional.”
She will, however, have to get to grips with Galgorm Castle, a course she admits to never having played.
“I played Massereene a lot as a junior, so I’m hoping it will come back to me when I get there but sure that’s what Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are for – plenty of practice,” she said.
Tickets for the ISPS Handa World Invitational can be purchased through the tournament’s official ticketing platform Eventbrite.

Coulter hangs tough to claim back to back Irish Girls’ Close titles

July 18, 2021

Beth Coulter – Irish Girls Close Champion 2021

A determined Beth Coulter (Kirkistown Castle GC) retained the Irish Girls’ Close title after she defeated Emma Fleming (Elm Park) 2&1 in the final at Tramore.
Beth lost out to another Elm Park golfer, Anna Foster, in the final of the AIG Irish Women’s Amateur Close Championship in late June but she wasn’t going to be denied this time around.
“I’m delighted now, obviously Emma had a great comeback there on the last couple of holes but I wanted to start well because after Ballybunion a couple of weeks ago I didn’t want to go home disappointed,” said the 16-year-old.
Coulter’s busy schedule of late coupled with the added pressure of being defending champion left her feeling like she had underperformed in qualifying on Wednesday but her experience prevailed in the final.
She aded; “I held it really well until around the 12th and she started to make a bit of a comeback but I hit a great shot in there on 17 to finish it out so I’m really happy.”
Coulter won the Championship in 2019 at Galway Golf Club, beating Sara Byrne (Douglas) in the final. This time around it felt a little bit more relaxed as she had her family alongside her.
“The last one was a bit more of a rush, we got off the plane from Europeans in Spain and went straight to Galway but I’m delighted to get home for a couple of days and then have my brothers and family to come down this time so I’m happy out,” said Beth.
Coulter adds her name to just three other Champions who have defended their title at the Irish Girls’ Close in recent times, just Annabel Wilson, Karen Delaney and Pamela Murphy had previously completed the feat.
She now travels to the European Women’s Individual Championship in Italy next week alongside Julie McCarthy (Forrest Little) and Anna Foster (Elm Park).
Vicki Conlon (Enniscrone) and Sarah O’Brien (Elm Park) went head-to-head in the Pat Fletcher Plate final. Conlon looked in control throughout and, despite another fight back from the Elm Park Junior which forced extra holes, the Enniscrone native took the spoils and the trophy back to Connacht.

Irish Girls’ Close Championship matchplay results

England grab Euro glory at RCD while Ireland finish eighth

July 11, 2021

Team England win the European Ladies’ Team Championship, Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. 10/07/2021. Picture David Lloyd / Golffile.ie

England won the European Ladies Team Championships at Royal County Down, overcoming tournament favourites Sweden in the final on Saturday.
The sides couldn’t be split after the morning session, securing one point a piece in the foursomes matches.
Caley McGinty posted the first point in the singles, winning her match 6&5 before Annabel Fuller closed her match out against Ingrid Lindblad on the 17th.
When Charlotte Heath beat Maja Stark 2&1, the four-in-a-row dream for Sweden was over and the European title was heading home to England.
“We’re just elated to be honest,” said England Golf’s Performance Manager and Team Captain, Jenny Henderson.
“It’s been such a team effort from the moment we stepped off the plane until this afternoon.
“We knew coming in that we had a team this year that wanted to win not only for themselves but for each other and I think that’s been proven this afternoon.
“Our strategy today was to go out fighting in those early holes, as we had noticed that we weren’t capitalising on those opportunities and we managed to be up this afternoon through five holes for the first time all week. It really was a super match from both sides.”
Ireland finished in 8th place overall with a team that included four players making their senior international debut.
Sara Byrne said; “This week has just surpassed all expectations, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. To play at home as well has been so great and we appreciate that opportunity.”

Euro Team Championships scoring

Ireland chase strong finish while England & Sweden go for gold at RCD

July 9, 2021

Beth Coulter (IRL) and Annabel Wilson (IRL) in action during day 2 of matchplay at the European Ladies’ Team Championship, Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. 09/07/2021. Picture David Lloyd / Golffile.ie

England will play Sweden in the final of the European Ladies’ Team Championships at Royal County Down on Saturday.
Sweden are chasing a fourth straight victory in the event, which would be a record for any nation in all 62 years of European Team Championship history.
On paper, they have looked like the team to beat this week, with four of their players currently ranked inside the top-10 of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings.
England completed a stellar comeback in their semi-final match having lost both morning foursomes matches to top seeds Scotland. Emily Toy, who won the 2019 Women’s Amateur Championship at Royal County Down, secured a 3&1 win over leading individual qualifier Hannah Darling, before Annabel Fuller, Caley McGinty and Rosie Belsham all closed out their matches in England’s favour.
“It was a really good match, it was close all the way and to finally win on the 19th, I knew we needed that one so it’s a relief,” said Fuller, who beat Scotland’s Hazel Macgarvie on the 19th.
“This team is the closest and most driven England team I’ve been involved with. It’s about the team doing well, if we get off to a strong start tomorrow I think we can get the job done.”
The Ireland team of Sara Byrne (Douglas), Beth Coulter (Kirkistown Castle), Aine Donegan (Lahinch), Anna Foster (Elm Park), Lauren Walsh (Castlewarden) and Annabel Wilson (Lurgan) will play Spain on the final day in a battle to finish in 7th position.
A win against the Spaniards would equal Ireland’s best finish at a European Ladies Team Championship in 15 years, with a team not finishing in the top 6 since 2005 when the team included Tara Delaney, Claire Coughlan and Martina Gillen.
The final between England and Sweden tees off at 08:32am with Ireland playing Spain at 11.40am.

European Ladies Team Championship scoring

Ireland face Italy in matchplay stages of Euro Ladies at RCD

July 8, 2021

Aine Donegan (IRL) during second round of stroke play at the European Ladies’ Team Championship, Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. 07/07/2021. Picture David Lloyd / Golffile.ie

Ireland will face Italy today in the matchplay stages of the European Ladies Team Championship at Royal County Down after rallying yesterday to finish as second seeds.
Placed sixth after the opening 18 holes, Ireland now have a shot at a European gold medal.
Sara Byrne (Douglas) led the team out this morning, adding a level par 73 to her first round 77.
“I was a bit nervous going out yesterday,” admitted Byrne.
“You’re always a bit anxious starting out and it’s my first senior cap, but I was happy to hang on yesterday after my start.
“But I’m really happy with how today went. It was an up-and-down round and it got quite tough there towards the end but I birdied the last and it’s great to get in at level for the day and see how the rest of the girls get on.”
Castlewarden’s Lauren Walsh also improved on her opening round, carding a 1-under par 72.
“It was nice to improve on yesterday,” Walsh said.
“It’s one of these golf courses that the more you play it the better you play. Course knowledge and strategy out here is really important. The entire team, we’ve done a good job on that so far and it’s shown in the scores.’
Hannah Darling lead the individual standings adding a 69 to her 68 first-round which also helped secure the top seed for Scotland.
The match-play stages involve two foursomes matches in the morning and five singles matches in the afternoon.

Ireland v Italy scoring

Qualifying results