Nicholas Poppleton leads Irish Amateur Open

Royal County Down proves fair and challenging test in calm conditions

Forrest Little’s Jack McDonnell leads the Irish challenge after the first round of the Irish Amateur Open Championship at Royal County Down Golf Club. Photograph: Pat Cashman

Idyllic conditions helped enormously but the 144-man field was still thrilled not to be tortured by a draconian course set up as 13 players broke par in the opening round of the Flogas Irish Amateur Open at a fiery Royal County Down.

With no more than a zephyr breeze wafting across the Newcastle links, 23-year old Rotherham native Nicholas Poppleton made six birdies in a four-under par 67 to lead by a stroke from 21-year old compatriot Matthew Jordan from Royal Liverpool and 19-year old South African talent Kyle McClatchie.

McClatchie, who has won six times in South Africa in the past 12 months, might have been forgiven for thinking he was at his home club, Serengeti, as he plotted his way around in three-under 68.

“It’s the first tournament I have been to in amateur golf where the set it up as fair as they can,” said Poppleton, who birdied the fourth, ninth, 12th and 13th and made up for bogeys at the par-three seventh and 14th holes with two-putt birdies from just off the green at the 16th and 18th.


“We played Lytham last week, and every tee box was on the back and it was just brutal. People don’t want to watch that. They want to watch somebody play some good golf.

“It’s a shame, but at most amateur golf tournaments, people think it’s a slog. They are scared of someone beating their golf course.”

Back tees

Poppleton made his debut in the Lytham Trophy last week, hanging on for dear life from the back tees to shoot rounds of 77 and 80 to miss the cut,

But while the GUI’s championships manager, Mark Wehrly, shortened the links by 157 yards yesterday, it still presented a fair and challenging test for the elite field of 7,029 yards.

Forrest Little’s Jack McDonnell was playing the course blind but the 22-year old reigning Munster Youths champion could rue only a brace of three-putt bogeys as he shot a two under 69 to lead the home challenge with Galway’s Joe Lyons, Douglas’ Peter O’Keeffe and Portmarnock’s James Fox – three experienced men – a shot further back after fine 70s.

Eddie McCormack and Mark Morrissey shot level par 71s to share 14th with Tramore’s Robin Dawson whose fellow Walker Cup panellists Alex Gleeson from Castle and Naas’ Conor O’Rourke battled for one over 72s.

Defending champion Colm Campbell, the other Irish Walker Cup hopeful in action, had a disappointing 79 while American Stewart Hagestad, the leading amateur at last month’s Masters, started eagle-birdie but ran up a quadruple bogey eight at the ninth en route to a two-over 73.