South East prepares for big invasion

 

In times past, any invasion by club-wielding foreigners would have caused some degree of consternation among the natives.

Yet, the prospect of a thousand players invading these shores later this year for the Millennium International Pairs Golf Classic has Ireland's golf marketing people ready to roll out the welcome mat.

So far, over 38,000 club golfers in Britain - from Lands End in the south of England to the Isle of Lewis in the north of Scotland - have entered the inaugural event and Patrick Bradshaw, General Manager of Golfing Ireland, is convinced it will grow to such an extent that, by year three, players from Scandinavian countries and continental Europe will be among 100,000 participants. Already, the event is the biggest of its kind in Europe and is the largest ever golf tourism promotion ever to be run in Britain.

"It shows we are not sitting on our backsides when it comes to getting golfers over here," says Bradshaw bluntly. Indeed, the four-ball event, which is open to men and women, is currently being staged in 440 clubs in England, Scotland and Wales (with more clubs expected to participate in the coming weeks) with two players from each venue winning trips to Ireland.

The semi-finals are due to be staged in the south-east during the week of September 20th and the finalists will then do battle at Mount Juliet for the overall prize which, apart from a £20,000 Waterford Crystal trophy for the winning club, will entitle every member of the triumphant club to free golf for the year 2000 at every club in the GI portfolio.

The semi-finals will be staged at St Helen's Bay, Kilkea Castle, Mount Wolseley, Rathsallagh and Waterford Castle and the finals at Mount Juliet will be transmitted on Sky television.

Meanwhile, Ireland's two members on the British and Irish Vagliano Trophy team that takes on the continent of Europe at North Berwick next week could take considerable satisfaction from their performances in last week's European Team Championships. Ireland finished in eighth place (having made the top flight for the first time in a number of years) but Milltown's Suzanne O'Brien, the reigning Irish strokeplay champion, and Warrenpoint's Alison Coffey, the current Ulster champion, showed their class with a number of good winning performances.

O'Brien and Coffey are joined on the Vagliano Trophy team by Fiona Brown, Kim Andrew, Rebecca Hudson, Anne Laing, Becky Morgan and Hilary Monaghan. Paddy Gribben's win in last week's North of Ireland championship at Royal Portrush, meanwhile, emphasises how big a loss he was to Irish hopes in the recent European Team Championship in Italy.

Gribben suffered a hand injury in a domestic accident three weeks ago which caused him to miss the Europeans - but he is more than making up for it now. After retaining his North of Ireland title last week, the Warrenpoint hotfooted it over to Carnoustie for this week's British Open (for which he is exempt) and in two weeks time will defend his European Amateur Strokeplay Championship in Wales.

And, of course, Gribben can also look forward to a place on the British and Irish Walker Cup team for the match with the United States at Nairn in Scotland in Septmeber.

Meanwhile, Ireland relinquished the European Boys' Amateur Team Championship in Upsala in Sweden last week, finishing in seventh position. England regained the championship.