Ivan Morris Column - Fixture congestion hurting South of Ireland

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
THE congestion in the GUI Fixture List that conflicts and frustrates Ireland’s top amateur golfers is perfectly illustrated by this month’s workload.

THE congestion in the GUI Fixture List that conflicts and frustrates Ireland’s top amateur golfers is perfectly illustrated by this month’s workload.

From July 8th-12th, the European Team Championship was held in Finland. The North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush took place from July 14th to 18th.

This week, July 22nd-24th, the top golfers from the four provinces have been attempting to win the inter-provincial championship at The Island Golf Club in County Dublin. The historic South of Ireland Amateur Golf Championship at Lahinch begins this Saturday, July 26th, with the final due to take place on Wednesday afternoon.

In between, the preliminary, area matches in the Irish Senior Cup were played all over the country. No wonder top amateur golfers have to be full-timers and can’t play in everything!

The South at Lahinch is trumpeted as Ireland’s first and oldest provincial championship. The inaugural event took place in 1895. This weekend the 113th version gets underway. No championship played during the Great War Years (1914-1919) or in 1922 due to the Irish Civil War accounts for what appears, at first glance, to be bad Math’s.

In recent years The South has lost much of its glory and glamour. The Golfing Union of Ireland is largely responsible because of its fixation with the R & A’s World Golf Rankings and having its focus on global golf instead of what happens at home. They have clogged up the fixture list with ‘impossible’ demands placed on Ireland’s elite amateur golfers. On a more serious level, flaws in the governance of handicaps are affecting the creditability of championship golf.

The CONGU handicap system (not Lahinch GC’s responsibility) is widely abused by individuals at both ends of the spectrum. Handicaps are ‘fiddled’ like a violin and too many unworthy players are accepted into championships like The South because their handicaps are bogus and not scrutinized properly while far better players with genuine handicaps are rejected. The Connacht Branch has demonstrated a way of dealing with this matter at the West of Ireland but, so far, Lahinch is unwilling to follow suit.

Suggestions that would increase the number of entries and create extra revenue for Lahinch GC and the village are also ignored and cast aside.

Change is in the air but not enough that you would barely notice. In 2015, The South will be held a few days earlier than its traditional staging during the last days of July. Next year the competition will begin on Wednesday 22nd July with the semi-final and final played on Sunday 26th July (the date on which the tournament commences this year.) In 2015, the GUI is also moving the Irish Amateur Close Championship to be held at Tramore, to an August date - Tuesday 18th – Saturday 22nd August, which may be a good move for The Close but it will mean nothing for the dwindling status of The South.

When the fixture list was arranged differently, The South was important and significant. Now, it is just another tournament. Once, considered a proving ground for would be interprovincial and international players, while also providing free, entertainment for (literally) thousands of golf enthusiasts in the Midwest Region, the South is barely noticed outside County Clare.

The Irish selectors admit that they pay more attention to how their squad of full-time, subsidized players performs overseas than what happens in championships at home. Anybody outside the elite squad doesn’t have a hope of being ‘capped.’ As a consequence, none of the provincial championships count for much.

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.

There are 276-entries for this year’s South - 131 from Leinster; 89 from Munster; 29 from Ulster and 21 from Connacht. There are 2-entrants from England and one each from France, Scotland, Spain and USA. Limerick has 12 taking part (a very disappointing number) and Clare has 22.

Here’s a random selection of some first round games slated for Saturday, involving local golfers. Go down to Lahinch and cheer them on. It’s their one and only shot at playing in a ‘vanishing major.’

At 7.09, Eamonn Haugh (Castletroy) gets the ball rolling against a tough nut in Kieran Lynch from Skibberreen.

7.54-Cian Geraghty (L&B) V. Declan McInerney (Lahinch); 8.30-Colm Cunningham (Carton) V. Matt Kennedy (Ballykisteen); 8.48-Declan Reidy (Co. Sligo) V. Bob Loftus (Lahinch); 9.15-Ed Hickey (Shannon) V. Davy Fitzgerald (Dromoland); 10.18-John Hayes (Limerick) V. Michael Ryan (New Ross); 11.48 Cian Daly (Castletroy) V. Dan Brennan (Shannon); 12.06-Ed Hannon (Kanturk) V. Jason O’Leary (Dromoland); 12.33-Tony Cleary (Dromoland) V. Owen O’Brien (Limerick); 13.09-J. Sutherland (Galgorm) V. Jamie O’Shea (Shannon); 14.21-R.Kennedy (Portmarnock) V. Sean Burns (Dromoland); 14.48-Andrew McCormack (NCW) V. Jack Walsh (Castle); 16.18-James McLaughlin (Portumna) V. the 1993 champion, Peter Sheehan (Ballybunion).