Ivan Morris Column - South of Ireland has been treated badly

In his weekly Limerick Leader golf column, Ivan Morris hits out at the rules overning the once prestigious South of Ireland championship.

In his weekly Limerick Leader golf column, Ivan Morris hits out at the rules overning the once prestigious South of Ireland championship.

When the golfing calendar was arranged differently, the South of Ireland Golf Championship at Lahinch GC was a proving ground for the likes of Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke, as well as providing ‘atmospheric’ free entertainment for thousands of spectators.

If a player wanted a place on the inter-provincial or international teams, the South was his last chance to impress.

Sadly, last week’s South was a pale shadow of its former self. The influential Irish Golf Desk blog sheet referred to it as ‘decaffeinated.’ It’s not Lahinch’s fault, it’s all down to the globalization of golf and fixture congestion.

Scheduled two days after the Inter-provincial matches and a week before the European Individual Championship, followed a week later by the Home Internationals and because the GUI sanctioned that the Irish team be announced on the eve of the South, no member of Ireland’s squad made the pilgrimage to County Clare. Why bother? The GUI has damaged rather than helped to preserve the status of Ireland’s oldest provincial championship but it is not its biggest disgrace.

The omission of Robbie Cannon from the Irish team in spite of him winning the Irish Open Amateur Championship in May is the ultimate insult.

Selectors will admit that they pay more attention to how their handpicked squad of full-time, subsidized players performs overseas. It seems that anybody outside the elite squad and playing his golf at home doesn’t have a hope. That’s particularly discouraging for those who work for a living - not to mention undermining its own championship.

The GUI encourages too many full time amateurs to drift along in a fool’s paradise at the ordinary golfer’s expense. More often than not, they will never be good enough for the pro game but the GUI keeps paying their bills. Eventually, they end up discarded with no proper training to help them to earn a living.

In the long run, these young lads are being done a disservice. If ordinary club members realized how much of their poll tax money is spent on sending ‘no hopers’ all over the world, they might say: “Enough is enough.”

There is another side to the coin, which Lahinch GC and the GUI can do something about. On the evidence of Saturday’s play in ideal conditions of sunshine and light breezes, the standard of some of the golf witnessed was dire. Handicappers of 1.2 or better, my hat!

Whoever is responsible for massaging handicaps to such an extent that a so-called ‘scratch’ golfer could not come anywhere near playing to his handicap under championship conditions, has some explaining to do.

Surely, Lahinch must know its championship is brought into disrepute by allowing it to happen? It’s infuriating and unfair to the dozens of honestly handicapped golfers refused entry and cast aside.

At another level, there’s similar ‘carry-on’ in the Jimmy Bruen, Pierce Purcell and JB Carr Trophies where, for all practical purposes, success is dependent on elastic handicaps. When a player’s handicap can go from 4 to 19, or drop from 7 to 1 in ‘double-quick’ time, it illustrates a faulty (abused) system.

It doesn’t add up and it should be investigated. It’s a scandal that handicaps are being manipulated so outrageously and it’s happening at both ends of the spectrum while the GUI wrings it hands and blames CONGU.

Irish team captain Pádraig Hogan defends the “difficult” decision taken regarding the non-selection of the Irish Open champion but he is not convincing. “We have a split scene now with guys playing international golf and guys playing domestic golf. It’s really hard to balance the two. If you look at the current World Amateur Golf Ranking, you can see that the Irish team has come from the top 12 or 13 Irish players listed.

“Players with jobs have fewer opportunities to travel and accumulate world-ranking points. It’s not that the South doesn’t mean as much. It’s just that amateur golf has gone global. We have to take note of guys who do well overseas in international competition.”

Hogan’s comments beg further questions. Would the winner of the Amateur Open in any other country fail to be selected on his national team? What is the incentive/reward for a national or provincial champion in Ireland? How can an unsubsidized amateur afford to compete overseas more than once a year, if at all?

The GUI needs reminding that they represent all of the golfers in the country not just the chosen few who have the advantage of receiving expenses and monetary grants.

Lahinch and the Munster Branch are keen to find a solution but there is very little appetite for moving away from the traditional date. Reverting to a 36-hole (stroke-play) qualifier with 16 byes to attract the ‘ranked/seeded’ players leaving 48 places for the qualifiers, might improve matters?

It would weed out the handicap cheaters and if both of the courses were used the number of entries might increase?