2016 National Gents Strokeplay Preview Day One

A look through the years

2016 National Gents Strokeplay Preview Day One image

AHEAD of this weekend’s National Gents Strokeplay in Tullamore, John Manning takes a look back at the three grades down through the years. 


Early Years

Athgarvan Co Kildare 


Athgarvan hosted the first ever National Strokeplay championship played under the auspices of the PPUI on Sunday July 2nd 1961. Winner of the Senior Strokeplay title was Portmarnock’s Bernard Rogers, who had only a single stroke to spare from John Redmond (Athgarvan) who returned 212 for the 72 holes played. Athgarvan’s Sean Byrne (father of Marian, Chrissie and Margaret) tied for third place on 212.


There was an original entry of 226 for the 1961 championships and of these 60 qualifiers played in the final stages. Play continued from early morning until near darkness and all of the stewardship, marking and scorekeeping was done by members of the local club.  The entire championship, which included junior and novice (nowadays Intermediate and Junior) was organised by the Kildare County Board. Winner of the Junior section was Noel Wall (Hillview) while young Jimmy Browne also of Hillview took the novice section. 


In 1962, the championship was played over 54 holes.  Kevin Rogers (Portmarnock) shot a 49 final round to succeed his brother Bernard as champion.  Kevin recorded the first of his three wins on 145 for three rounds at Rocklodge. In 1965, Kevin Rogers won his second title at Rocklodge with the highest ever 54 hole winning total of six under par. Rogers defeated local player TJ O’Riordan in the event’s first ever play-off.  O’Riordan finished second for the third time. TJ led by three after 36 holes but Rogers’ 49 final round tied matters on 156.  The play-off was contested over 18 holes. Kevin scored 51 to TJ’s 53. In 1967, Rogers became the first player to win three titles. Rogers carded 10 under par 152 at Ierne to beat Gus Carolan (Glenanne) by two.

After winning in 1971 when the format was changed to 36 holes, John Crowley (Highfield) became first to win two championships in a row a year later. The Cork left hander (the first ciotóg to become champion) triumphed at Rocklodge with a two round 98, four strokes clear of Bob O’Neill (St. Barbara’s). In 1975, Gus Carolan (Lucan) became the second player to win two championships in a row. His opening 45 spread-eagled the field at Seapoint on July 6th 1975. Carolan held on well with a 49 second 18 for a two stroke margin over Glenville’s Leo O’Reilly.

Mick Forrest’s Milestone

Mick Forrest Third from Left

In 1976, Mick Forrest (Rocklodge) became the first player to win the National Matchplay and the National Strokeplay in the same year.  Forrest completed the double by winning the Strokeplay at St. Anne’s on July 11th.  His 91 was two clear of Willie Kennedy (Killeen Paper Mills).

Cement’s Kevin McDonnell six under return at Killarney (Deerpark) in 1978 was the highest ever winning total over 36 holes. Kevin defeated Gerry McHugh (Erin’s Isle) in the championship’s third play-off. On July 8th 1983 Donal Long (St. Anne’s) led the senior championship at Lucan by four strokes after an opening 43. Donal birdied the 19th and 20th en route to a second round 45. His 88 is an all-time championship best for 36 holes. Donal’s ultimate six shot winning margin (over Mick Forrest) is the highest for 36 holes and he also became the first player to win the Senior and Intermediate championships.

Drama in 1989

Anthony Malone

The 63 metre tree-lined 18th hole at St. Loman’s was a crucial factor in deciding the destination of the 1989 championship. Anthony Malone (Lucan) arrived on the tee at 16 under par. There was a pile-up of pairings on this hole. Malone had to wait a significant length of time before playing his tee-shot. The long delay may have unsettled him and he said later that the ball almost fell off the tee peg as he was swinging.  The ball flew wildly left, hit a car and a roadway bordering the course and bounced back in bounds by a few inches. 

He still faced a near impossible shot. He could barely get at the ball and the trees were between him and the green.  After much thought, he swung at the ball and managed to move it a few yards to the edge of the trees on the other side. He was still on a very bare lie with the branches of a tree obstructing his stance. Anthony selected his putter, and characteristically addressing the ball with the toe of his club, knocked it straight into the hole. ‘Skinner’s’ exultant leap of delight was wholly understandable. Inter champion was Royal Meath’s John Kelly while Richard Cunningham (St. Annes) took the junior. Anthony Malone added a second title at I.G.B. in 1991.

The Nineties

Stackallen, Co Meath Host Club to Three Time Winner Sean Downes 

In 1994, Sean Downes became the third player to win two-in-a-row. The Stackallen maestro had won at Irish Ropes in 1993.  Downes birdied five-in-a-row from the fourth at St. Patricks in the 1994 Strokeplay to trail First Round leader David Poole (43) of Portmarnock by a shot at halfway. Putt after putt came off the centre of the Downes blade. Playing in the final group and watched a huge gallery, Sean Downes eventually finished with another 44 for 88, which tied the all-time 36 hole record. David Poole settled for second on 92.

Collins sweltered on July 8th & 9th 1995. A huge shirt-sleeved gallery swarmed all over the course, testament to the new format (back to 54 holes with 20 qualifying to play the final round).  Chris Scannell was in the third to last match out in the final round, partnered by Derry McCarthy (Deerpark). Chris shot ten birdies, and retrieved a five stroke 36 hole deficit to win his first National Senior championship by five. He also became the second player to win the Intermediate and Senior titles. Michael Herlihy (E.S.B.) won the Intermediate with 148 while 162 clinched the Junior for Mark Reynolds (Ballykilty Manor). 

On July 6th & 7th the following year Rocklodge became the venue most often used (since extended in 2013) for the National Strokeplay championship.  Liam O’Brien (Douglas) aced the first on his way to a 54 hole score of 136 and a three stroke win over an up and coming young man named John Walsh. Cunnigar’s Killian Power and Eoin Philips (Ballykilty Manor) were the graded victors. In 1998 at Lucan Frank O’Donoghue birdied four of the last five holes to safely make cut on 98. The Templebreedy man then produced a fantastic 44 final round to beat Deerpark’s Derry McCarthy by a single shot. It was Frank’s second Strokeplay Championship win.

Niall Cuffe holed an eight foot uphill putt on the final green to win by a single stroke in ideal scoring conditions at Fermoy in 1999. Niall Cuffe's 54 hole aggregate of 132 (that was a new championship scoring aggregate record) gave him victory by one over gallant runner-up Derry McCarthy (Deerpark), who finished in the silver medal position for the second successive year – the first player to do that. Derry had a putt to tie on the home green but his six-foot downhill effort drifted right.  Niall’s 132 has since been equaled by Sean Downes (2005) and by Eddie Carey, who won a play-off with John Walsh after both tied at Ryston in 2010.

Murphy in the Millennium

Ray Murphy receiving the Donnelly Cup for the fourth time in 2013 at Rocklodge


The Strokeplay dominance of Ray Murphy (Templebreedy) started in Millennium year.  Ray turned in a superb performance to win on Sunday July 2nd 2000 at Lakeside.  Ray put together fabulous rounds of 44, 43 and 48 to win by five shots from Paul Bray of the Collinstown club in Co. Westmeath. Murphy's 21 under par 36 hole total of 87 saw him head the 20 qualifiers who made it through to the final 18 holes of this Paddy Old Irish Whiskey sponsored event. At this stage, he led by two from Bray. Bray birdied two of the first three holes in the final round to briefly level matters but Murphy stepped up a gear and when Paul Bray bogeyed the long 8th, Ray regained the lead and ran out a convincing winner. Paul Bray gamely birdied the last two holes to clinch second.

In the 2000 Intermediate Championship, Barry Hill from the McBride club in Drogheda scored 49 and 50 to lead on nine under par after 36 holes. A 51 in the final round gave Barry a 12 under par aggregate of 150 and an eventual winning margin of four shots. Lakeside's own Noel Leahy dominated the Junior Championship from start to finish. A stunning opening round of six under par 48 gave him a great boost. He added a second 52 to hold a nine shot lead heading into the play-off. A 52 in that final round saw him post an aggregate of 10 under par 152 and win by ten shots.

In 2001 at Stackallen, Stephen O'Leary took the All Ireland Junior Strokeplay championship.  In 2002 at ESB, he became Intermediate Strokeplay champion, the very first time and only time to date that back-to-back feat was been achieved in Gents Pitch & Putt.  O'Leary was joint third on 100 after the morning 36 holes, two behind early leader Declan O'Dwyer (Larkspur Park).  O'Leary birdied three of the last four holes of regulation play to force a nine hole play-off with final round playing partner, Mark Mulcahy of the host club and the fast finishing Gerry O'Brien (Ardnacrusha), who carded a final round 48 to post the clubhouse target of 11 under par 97. Mark Mulcahy held the lead for much of the extra nine holes but O'Leary pitched to within a foot of the ninth hole to tie with Mulcahy on 24. Gerry O'Brien was eliminated at this stage after shooting 26, which comprised four birdies and three bogeys.  The two Corkmen continued up the tenth and after Mark Mulcahy chipped and putted for par, Stephen O'Leary calmly holed from six feet for birdie and victory at the first hole of sudden death. The Douglas player was celebrating on the double.  His history making feat also came on his nineteenth Birthday.

Ten years since he won the National Intermediate Strokeplay Championship at Parteen, Liam O'Donovan clinched his first senior Irish championship at E.S.B. on Sunday 7th July 2002. Liam holed a six-footer on E.S.B.'s home green to pip Ray Murphy by a single stroke. In 2004, Darren Collins (St. Anne's) became the fourth player to achieve the feat of winning Irish Intermediate and Senior Strokeplay crowns when he holed birdie putts on the final two greens in one of the most dramatic finales one could wish for, at superb St. Stephen's. Darren was three shots behind Frank Dineen with four holes to play of a nine holes play-off after the pair had tied over the regulation 54 holes.

Frank (who had birdied three of the first four holes) bogeyed the sixth when he left a chip short after pitching well left of the green.  Darren conjured up a glorious pitch to the long eighth, his ball stopping within two feet for a birdie and a two shot swing.  Frank fell foul of the treacherous eighth (dubbed 'Goliath' by the locals). His tee-shot tangled with a tree left of the fairway and he bogeyed to leave the pair tied again playing the last. Collins' pitch to the ninth almost went into the hole before spinning left and finishing four feet away.  Dineen found the centre of the green but missed his birdie effort.  That left Darren Collins with a left to right breaking four-footer for the championship and he slotted it to spark tremendous scenes of celebration.

The two-time National Matchplay runner-up was national champion for the first time. Frank Dineen had now lost a play-off for a second successive year

Tied for the 36 hole lead at Royal Meath in 2005 on 18 under par 90 with Paul O'Brien (Lakeside), Sean Downes eventually triumphed by seven over William Buckley Junior (Erry), who closed with a 48.  Downes equalled and broke multiple records in 2005.  Three Strokeplay titles meant he joined Kevin Rogers on top of the then all-time Roll of Honour.  His 132 total tied the low aggregate set by Niall Cuffe.  His victory meant he had won the National Matchplay (1992) and the National Strokeplay at the same course - no other man has done that. Sean's seven shot win in 2005 is the highest ever winning margin.  Sean jointly holds the low scoring aggregate for the 36 hole and 54 hole formats of the championship.

In 2006 at Larkspur Park, Ray Murphy won the Strokeplay and Matchplay titles in the same year to equal Mick Forrest’s 1976 feat. In 2007, he fired 45+46+47 to come out top (by a shot) of a titanic battle with Derek Courtney for the championship at R.G.S.C.  It was a second Strokeplay and Matchplay double and he also became the fourth player to win the Championship in successive years. Darren Quirke scored 100 for 36 holes in the 2007 intermediate championship. A 52 in the final round maintained a one shot lead over Colm Ward (Loughlinstown). Having won the Juvenile Strokeplay four years earlier, Darren became the first Juvenile champion to go on to be Intermediate Champion.

More Recent Times

2014 National Intermediate & Junior Strokeplay Champions Owen Farrell (Left) and Alan Bennis (Right) 


Daniel Clinton (Cement) didn’t quite match Stephen O’Leary but Daniel was crowned Junior champion in 2010 (with 152 at Ryston) and was intermediate champion two years later (again with 152 at R.G.S.C.). In 2013 at Rocklodge, Ray Murphy won his fourth title to set the record for most wins in history as well as achieving the Matchplay/Strokeplay double for the third time. In 2014 at Stackallen, John Walsh was runner-up for the fourth time (an all-time record).  Liam O’Donovan (Bruff) made that fantastic par from well off the 18th green and was became champion for the second time.

In 2015 at Cunnigar, John Walsh became the ninth multiple winner and broke the record for the longest span between first and most recent winning appearance (1997-2015). He also became the third player to win the Matchplay and Strokeplay in the same year.

Tomorrow: We look ahead to the Intermediate and Junior events on Saturday.