The Leinster Ladies Strokeplay Championships took place at a beautiful and tranquil Athgarvan Pitch and Putt Club yesterday. We arrived at the course to find Jesse Dunne applying the finishing touches to the greens and before we knew the splendid Athgarvan flag was being hoisted proudly into position at the top of the hill.
The word in the run up to the competition was how proud Athgarvan were to be hosting these championships and they worked their socks off both yesterday and the weeks preceding to present their course in the best condition they could possibly do and they pulled off that feat with aplomb.
One by one cars pulled into the small car park or lined the edge of the Curragh grasses and it was announced to competitors to get their bearing of the course before playing. Some of the early players expressed their nervousness at a venue many had never seen before, and the stories of the natural environment and its trappings seemed to have been a hot topic for those with some distance to travel.
However that was all soon forgotten as Leinster/Ulster Competitions Coordinator Paul O’Gorman introduced the PPUI team for the day, with Robert Ryan on scoreboard and technical duty, while Liam Sherry acting as duty-chief and keeping everyone on their toes. The Leinster/Ulster was delighted to have PPUI Patron, Mr Billy Lynch from Royal Meath in attendance and mingling with the crowds.
The message espoused for the day was sororal encouragement, enjoyment and relaxation! And there was an extremely relaxed vibe from all in attendance as the Ryston Lady Captain for 2013, Theresa O’Keeffe, was called to the tee. One by one the Junior ladies took aim, pitched and before we knew it, the full Ladies Junior section was on the course.
Pre-tournament favourite Lauren Pyke lived up to her billing with an exceptional first round of 56 which meant she was 5 shots clear of Royal Meath’s Teresa Fagan, and a further shot clear from Dora Keane of Lucan. There was a strong group of ladies another shot back, meaning that if the title itself was to remain with Pyke, there would at least be plenty of competition for the remaining positions.
O’Keeffe carded a steady 127, with rounds of 64 & 63, before Glenda Hoey, another graduate from the Junior Smith School of RGSC Coaching, carded a 126, a very good score of 61 in the 2nd 18 being the reason. However the winner soon followed, Lauren Pyke carding by her standards a little disappointing 60, but still a very good score at this level, and for the conditions, meaning she was finished on 116. To give Lauren her credit, she was immensely annoyed on completion of the 36 holes, disgusted at dropping shots on the way home, an attitude that will serve her well in the future.
Teresa Fagan returned a near identical score in the 2nd 18, leaving her a few shots ahead of the remaining posse on 122, a score that would on any other day have represented a super winning score, only for Pyke! 126 was the figure to be reached for the remainder, and with a wonderful round of 60 Veronica Clarke of the Kilbeggan club indeed reached that score, edging out Hoey on back 18’s, as well as Dora Keane who carded another 63.
A very good Ladies Junior Championships and these ladies must be commended for their attitude on the course to what was a very significant challenge on a stiflingly humid day during their 36 holes. A couple of specific ladies should give themselves a pat on the back for getting up and down the hills, I’ll let them enjoy their anonymity! So Lauren Pyke from Tullamore retains her title, but in doing so will now move to the Intermediate grade and she must be the raging favourite for the National Strokeplay in Navan next weekend.
The Intermediate Ladies promised to be a much tighter competition and so it proved to be. The standard on display yesterday was very encouraging, as the firm surrounds of the green, and the roll of the landscape required dexterity from the ladies that they would seldom have needed previously. Many mastered that deftness with aplomb, and this was reflected by the scores returned.
Laura Whelan’s dip in form coincided with the beginning of my tipping of her for future success, and the guilt has hung over me like a bad smell. Aware of that I made the conscious decision to not emphasis her capability on the PPUI pages. She came back with a bang on Sunday, shooting the first significant score of the day with an excellent 57. This was later equalled by former champion and underrated player Ann-Marie McCa Farrell from Ferbane.
They were soon surpassed however by Marie Shiels of the Ringcommons club in North Dublin, one tipped by this writer to go very close. Towards the end both Anne Ward and Betty Cody posted scores of 58 to leave little or nothing between the top 5, but a bigger gap to the rest meant that the winner was going to come from this enclave. Laura Whelan started off brightly before a mishap going out, and a horror show on the last with a 5 meant she added a 60 to her earlier 57 to finish on 117 – a good score, but not good enough perhaps. Still a very rewarding 34 holes for the Old County girl, a relative newcomer in the PPUI fold, and a sign of better things to come, meaning there would be a long wait for her.
Anne-Marie was the next to return, and she matched her first round to set the target of 114, an excellent score, and the excitement was evident as the word passed back to south-west Offaly and beyond of her score. Bernie Dunne returned a commendable 57 to leave her one stroke shy of Whelan’s score but she knew what was coming, as Marie Shiels added a 60 meaning she was in second place, pipping Whelan, and putting it up to the others. The giddiness was palpable as congratulations and cajoling was evident outside the clubhouse.
As the penultimate group finished, Anne Ward posted a scintillating 57 to leave her one shot behind the leader, with a 115, meaning Whelan’s long wait was in vain. Delight for Farrell, Ward and Shiels, pain for Whelan, but her magnanimous congratulations to the medallists, and long walk onto the course to show her gratitude to the organisers was very courageous, and if Karma is wonderful, then Whelan will deserve her reward.
But it was to be Anne-Marie Farrell’s day and a very, very good score, which would have been enough to place 11th in the Senior, meant she captured the 2013 Ladies Intermediate title.
The Senior Ladies may have had to wait a little longer to play than scheduled, but with the cloud rolling back and the sun coming through, aided by a slight following breeze, plenty were able to sit back, relax and take in the U/V and top-up their tan. As the message came through to consume water where possible, it was obvious that the afternoon was going to be scorching. And so it proved. Sheelagh Elmes battled the elements, and the woman in black posted an opening 55, a fair score. Somewhat surprisingly, Liz Bloem surpassed her by a single stroke, firing a level-par 54 to sit proudly in the lead.
From my vantage point at the tenth tee-box it was clear that the scoring was congested, and that very little would separate those at the top after 18 holes. Margaret Hogan, Rose Kelly and Marian Byrne all came in within distance of Bloem, with 55, 57 & 56 respectively before Tara Dillon and Ger Ward joined Elmes and Hogan on 55. Claire Keatinge and Helen Wynne signed for 57 & 56 to leave themselves very much in the hunt before the next 3-ball set the cat amongst the pigeons.
Siobhan Keely showed a return to her true self with an excellent 56, bettered by the Matriarch of Dublin senior ladies, Glenville’s Stella Sheridan shooting a 55. The coup-de-gras though was the World Strokeplay Champion, Miss Christine Byrne as she is officially known, shooting the first sub-par round of the day, with a magnificent 51, 3 shots ahead of the field to that point.
Maree O’Toole was her usual jovial self, enjoying the banter with officials as the two Southside Dublin natives jested with the Northsider about the qualification criteria for citizenship of the better side of the Liffey, and whether she could be considered one or not! She has been through the wars recently and it was a delight to see her rewarded with a solid 55, right in the mix for a medal.
The final two-ball, such was the number of attendees, paired Tracey McGrath and Susan Adams. McGrath is looking to go back to the summit of the leaderboard that she has graced plenty of times in her short (ish) career, and a 54 left her within distance of the lead if she could get a start in round 2. Adams is a player I hadn’t witnessed before, and she is very tidy off the box. A 57 was a good score on the day.
As the second round progressed, it became clear that one position was signed and sealed, and that the podium places were all that was available. In no particular order Keatinge, Wynne, Sheridan and Keely all failed to improve, leaving them out of the running.
With 9 holes to play, only two shots separated 5 players, with McGrath placed ominously at the rear of the field. Alas the run never materialised and Tracey failed to add to her score, however her partner Adams shot an excellent 53 to tie her on totals with 110. Marian Byrne improved with a level par second round to also lie on 110, just being pipped by Tara Dillon who picked up two strokes on the home 9 to finish on +1. She was followed in immediately by All-Ireland Matchplay Champion Ger Ward who finished the day as she started, level par.
In truth all this did was confirm the podium, as the first two groups had put on an excellent display to divide up the two medals between them. First Liz Bloem added another excellent level par round to finish strongly, edged out by the effervescent Sheelagh Elmes who birdied the final 3 holes, an incredible performance, sit in third spot, on back 9’s. Margaret Hogan proved she is the right person to etch out a round, as put together a second-best score of the day 51, to finish in 2nd spot on 106.
That was all eclipsed by Chrissie Byrne though. Her earlier round of 51 was stupendous; the 49 she added to it, quite ridiculous, meaning a finishing total of 100, by far and away the performance of the day.
In the prize-giving ceremony, Leinster/Ulster Coordinator Paul O’Gorman paid tribute to Athgarvan, from Jesse Dunne and John O'Neill to Martin & Martina Delaney who donned the catering gowns to keep all full with sustenance. Further thanks went to his fellow officers on duty, Rob Ryan and Liam Sherry who made the day run effortlessly and with a constant smile on the face, and a special nod to Breda Boyle, who aided and abetted with the score-checking. Also deserving of praise, the PPUI office staff, and to Breda Brophy on her continued help with Leinster matters.
Most praise was reserved for the players and spectators who created a wonderful sporting atmosphere and made the occasion what it was.
Rob Ryan took the photos of all the prize winners, which will appear on the PPUI website, while Liam Sherry presented the prizes.
The final thanks went to KFM for the support they had shown in promoting the event in the preceeding days.
Roll on Navan next weekend...
Junior Ladies Strokeplay:
1st: Lauren Pyke (Tullamore) 116
2nd: Teresa Fagan (Royal Meath) 122
3rd: Veronica Clarke (Kilbeggan) 126 (o.b.18)
Intermediate Ladies Strokeplay:
1st: Anne-Marie Farrell (Ferbane) 114
2nd: Ann Ward (Seapoint) 115
3rd: Marie Shiels (Ringcommons) 116
Senior Ladies Strokeplay:
1st: Chrissie Byrne (St. Bridgets) 100
2nd: Margaret Hogan (Tullamore) 106
3rd: Sheelagh Elmes (Portmarnock) 108