East Clare works a miracle
It is being widely acclaimed as one of the finest achievements in the history of tournament golf in these islands. Indeed the inaugural staging of the West of Ireland Seniors Championship at East Clare last weekend was described by tournament director, Michael Haarer as "the biggest miracle I've ever seen on a golf course".
Haarer, who has been 18 years as an administrator with the PGA European Tour, went so far as to suggest that he had never witnessed such a transformation in less than a week. "It speaks volumes for the initiative of the people of east Clare area," he said.
Originally earmarked for Ballybunion, this brainchild of course-designer Arthur Spring eventually came to fruition as a multi-sponsored event. "It was a major challenge to bring the various strands together and if we decide to stage it again next year, I would be hoping for a title sponsor," said Spring.
Meanwhile, Haarer will not need to be persuaded to return. "The welcome for the European Tour here has been unbelievable - something really special," he said. "I love the West of Ireland and the players were thrilled with the warmth of the people who have been incredibly helpful."
He then outlined the background to the event on a course which opened little more than a year ago and was built to bring the game to a hitherto deprived area of the county. "I first visited east Clare last Easter to look over the course and see if it was feasible to have a seniors event here," said the European Tour official.
"In fact I was especially keen because we were about to lose an event from our seniors schedule this year. So, having inspected it with Arthur Spring, I decided it would be suitable.
"On returning to England, I told Andy Stubbs (managing director of the Seniors Tour) we could have an event at East Clare GC if the necessary sponsors were lined-up. And the decision was made by the time I came back in June with Andy and Peter Adams (Event Promotions Manager).
"In the absence of a proper clubhouse, we knew we would need a marquee for dining. We also used that planning meeting to decide about such matters as a practice range, tented village, car-parking facilities and arrangements for the pro-am."
Haarer continued: "Despite certain apprehensions, I felt reasonably confident about our ability to get the course looking like a championship layout. But, on arriving here last Monday, I became somewhat alarmed.
"There was nobody in sight. I then discovered there had been a festival at Feakle over the weekend and that Clare had been playing Offaly in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final. That's obviously more important than life and death around these parts and everybody had been out celebrating.
"So, on Monday morning, it was a little bit difficult to find anybody connected with the course, apart from a few players who were trying to get in some early practice. However, from the moment the staff eventually arrived - somewhat hungover I suspect - they worked extremely hard and efficiently.
"Michael Fahy, the course manager, was most attentive and the man on the course, Jimmy Walsh, was excellent. Given that they are not qualified greenkeepers as such, their effort was all the more remarkable. In fact it was an unbelievable achievement.
"I saw men out on the course using the backs of rakes to clear the grass off the fairways. And in a few days, they achieved something I didn't think was possible; they got it looking like a championship layout. So successful were they that it's going to look brilliant on television when our highlights programme is shown all over the world."
He concluded: "It's all been a wonderful experience. Let's hope it continues." As a visitor to this country, Haarer's words represented an extremely welcome shaft of light on what had been a particularly dark weekend, away from golfing matters.