Battling Beech Park show true grit to stay the course at Portmarnock Links

Grange and Rathfarnham also qualify in Allianz Irish Times Officers’ Challenge

Grange GC president Oisín Ó Buachalla putts on the 18th, watched by lady captain  Anne Kelly and captain Jim Hegarty at Portmarnock Links. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Grange GC president Oisín Ó Buachalla putts on the 18th, watched by lady captain Anne Kelly and captain Jim Hegarty at Portmarnock Links. Photograph: Dave Meehan

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What was it the legendary Arnold Palmer once said? “You step inside yourself to discover your personal resources, and what it takes to match them to the challenge.”

And, as a strong southerly wind which at times masqueraded as a gale buffeted them and caused eyes to stream, all those who stood with club in hand contemplating their first tee-shots of the Allianz Irish Times Officers’ Challenge at Portmarnock Links – the first qualifying event of the 2018 series – were acutely aware of the challenge ahead. This was a day when they’d be required to go outside their comfort zones!

For those players, especially from parkland courses who’d had to cope with far too many wet days so far this season and frequent course closures, this was also a day to experience the joys of links golf.

Sure the wind provided a testing examination but the course condition – hard and firm, with no need for placing – was a tribute to how this Bernhard Langer-design has matured and also to the brilliance of golf course superintendent Fintan Brennan and his team.

This hugely popular three-player event – which involves the men’s and women’s captains along with one serving officer – teed-off this year’s competition with a demanding examination that, as it happened, demonstrated Palmer’s words were prophetic for those three clubs that found a way to meet the challenge and advance to the final which will take place at The K Club in September.

On this occasion, Beech Park proved to be orchestrators of their own destiny. The team of lady captain Maura Harte (28 handicap), captain Mark Kennedy (18) and eight-handicapper Kieran Gregory produced a winning score of 71 points (two scores from three counting on each hole) to edge out Grange by a single Stableford point with Rathfarnham in third ensuing an all-southside sweep of the qualifying places.

With a two tee-start in operation, with the first and eighth as the starting points, Beech Park got an early indicator of the tough battle ahead. The eighth hole, a severe dogleg Par 4, played into the teeth of the wind and, as it turned out, only one of the trio managed to claim any contribution to the scorecard. Maura’s double-bogey six earned them two points, with the two men consigned to onlookers.

Grind it out

“We knew straight away it would be a day to grind it out,” admitted Kennedy of the wake-up call on the opening hole and, to their credit, that is exactly what they did do.

That two-pointer was to be their worse score on any hole and, from there on, the three played solidly to keep the scores going.

The importance of remaining resolute right to the end was emphasised by the team’s play of the seventh hole (their closing hole) where both Kennedy and Gregory signed off with pars to earn six points, which ultimately propelled them into the winning position.

Winners Beech Park Golf Club: from left Peter Kilcullen, director, Allianz; president Kieran Gregory; lady captain Maura Harte; captain Mark Kennedy; Philip Reid, Irish Times. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Winners Beech Park Golf Club: from left Peter Kilcullen, director, Allianz; president Kieran Gregory; lady captain Maura Harte; captain Mark Kennedy; Philip Reid, Irish Times. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Grange – with captain Jim Hegarty (10), Oisín Ó Buachalla (14) and lady captain Anne Kelly (27) – missed out on a qualifying place by one point in last year’s competition but made amends on this occasion with a strong showing that yielded 70 points, one shy of top qualifying spot.

Their cause was certainly helped by all three contributing four-pointers to the card at different junctures. Anne’s par on the Par 4 seventh was one occasion, while Jim’s birdie on the first hole – a rescue club to eight inches on his approach – and Oisín’s birdie on the 10th, where he hit a 16-degree rescue into the wind proved key. “The nicest dream shot you could ever hit,” said Ó Buachalla of his approach.

Rathfarnham claimed the third place – and final qualifying spot – with a total of 68 points, with the team of president John Guinan (14), captain Stan Lew (6) and lady captain Carol Cahill (14) playing very solid golf. There was just one slight hiccup (on the 15th, a one-pointer) along the way this was offset by a seven-pointer on the 18th which Lew birdied, hitting a big drive followed by a wedge to five feet, and Carol parred.

Peter Kilcullen, the Chief Customer Officer with Allianz Ireland, complimented all the participating teams and wished them well in their year of office.

The national final of the competition will take place at The K Club on September 10th, with further qualifying events scheduled for Cork (April 17th), Malone (June 18th), Mount Juliet (July 10th) and Galway Bay (August 14th).

Allianz Irish Times Officers’ Challenge Qualifying results from Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links 71 pts - Beech Park (Kieran Gregory, Maura Harte, Mark Kennedy) 70 pts - Grange (Jim Hegarty, Anne Kelly, O Ó Buachalla) 68 pts - Rathfarnham (John Guinan, Stan Lew, Carol Cahill)

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