GOLF:Team NIbidding to make a statement of Major proportions
The new golf season has quietly swung into action across the globe.
Attention has slowly moved towards the first Major of the year, The Masters in the USA this weekend.
Northern Ireland’s own Rory McIlroy will look to complete his Major Grand Slam.
However, already the golf scribes in Ireland are preparing for the big event of the year.
No, not the DDF Irish Open at Ballyliffan in July, nor the Ryder Cup in France in September - the annual Writer Cup contest - the only Major that matters.
In fact, for keen followers of the sport, it would be the perfect way to spend two days getting in the mood just ahead of the Ryder Cup.
The competition, hosted by Tourism NI, will be in its ninth year when it comes around in September.
It pitches the cream of Northern Ireland’s sporting journalists against the Republic of Ireland over two days of intense and fierce competition.
The Northern contingent currently hold the bragging rights with a resurgence in form which has seen them won the trophy back-to-back after four years in the wilderness after they had won the inaugural competition.
Many would say that turn in fortune has been aided by the inclusion of Gareth ‘boom boom’ McCullough (Newry Reporter), Maurice Jay (U105) and News Letter’s own Richard Mulligan in the past two years.
However, modest as they are if they can help Team NI to a hat-trick of successes in 2018 - perhaps their names can be added to the hall of fame.
The 2017 contest was held at Holywood - home course to Rory McIlroy - and Royal Belfast Golf Clubs.
In the singles Northern Ireland enjoyed a white wash opening day at the home course to Rory McIlroy, Holywood GC, Paul Kelly and Mulligan winning by an impressive 7&6 to take the first point of the day and set the tone.
The teams were treated to a quality evening meal at Belfast’s McHugh’s Bar after which they retreated to their base for the evening, the Hilton Hotel, near the iconic Waterfront Hall.
Team ROI had a mountain to climb on the day two singles staged at historic Royal Belfast GC.
Needing just two points to retain the title a comfortable victory appeared on the cards for the ‘home’ side.
In the end, the outcome was much closer than anyone expected with the Republic winning the singles 4.5 to 3.5.
It was not enough to prevent Team NI collecting the trophy for the second year in succession by a 7.5 to 4.5 margin.
Holywood GC and Royal Belfast are both situated just outside Belfast within 30 minutes drive of the Hilton Hotel.
Holywood GC has recently embarked on an ambitious development plan which will transform the club in the next 18 months.
The clubhouse is set for a major upgrade to include new facilities including, a state of the art fitness suite, an indoor golf simulator and entertainment room and a Golf Academy complete with the latest technology.
In preparation for these changes, the 18th green has already been moved further away from the clubhouse and remodelled. The course is an 18 hole undulating parkland neighbouring Redburn Country Park. It overlooks the city and Belfast Lough with views that are unrivalled in the area.
To score well requires accurate driving as opposed to length and good approach shots are needed to find the greens.
McIlroy stated that; “Holywood was a great course for me to learn the game on, it has all the traits that develop your game from playing it regularly.
“It helps you to learn to shape your shots, places emphasis on your short game and creates more versatile and adaptable golf game through the variety of different shots encountered.
“I have no doubt that the course helped me to become the golfer I am today.”
Founded in 1881, Royal Belfast Golf Club lays claim to the title of the oldest golf course in Ireland.
The present layout dates back to 1925, when responsibility for the design was handed to the now revered course architect Harry Colt.
With the assistance of Walker Cup player W.A. Murray, Colt produced a course of great charm which provides a true test of skill and enjoys unrivalled views of Belfast Lough and the Antrim plateau beyond.
Royal Belfast is always meticulously maintained with impeccable greens and groves of rhododendrons and gorse providing a colourful backdrop in spring.
There is a secluded, timeless feel to the club, one that has attracted the likes of tour players Michael Hoey and Rory to play and practice at the venue.
At the heart of its varied challenges is the constant requirement for accuracy rather than length, providing all levels of golfer with a fair test of golf.
The numerous bunkers and subtly sloped greens ensure that posting a low score is indeed a difficult feat.
It offers a stern golfing challenge, and the club has hosted numerous championships, most recently the Senior British Open Amateur Championship won by Spain’s Macarena Campomanes Eguiguren