|'It's the Augusta National meets Goldfinger'|
Reprinted with kind permission from
JOHN O'SULLIVAN reports on a unique event which offers handicap golfers an inkling of what it's like for the pros.
Image © Gary Bray / UNiCOM
ARTHUR, the honorary starter for the day, announces: 'and on the tree' . . . by way of introducing the third member of the threeball. It's a slip of the tongue but it's a remarkably prescient one as my ball disappears down the edge of the tree-line to the left of the first fairway at Druids Glen.
The light-hearted response has died in my throat as I consider whether Arthur may be clairvoyant or he'd been able to surmise the likely outcome based on my practice swing. Both are unsettling thoughts.
The moment may have been captured for posterity by the Sky Sports camera, positioned just behind the first tee. A shiver of panic subsides with the realisation it won't make the hour-long programme of the Druids Glen tournament to be screened by the satellite broadcaster in the autumn. No my embarrassment will just be limited to the witnesses who have gathered to politely applaud even the most technically inept effort.
Teeing it up in the Irish leg of the William Hunt Trilby Tour at Druids Glen to determine an Irish champion and 11 qualifiers who will go forward to the final at the Buckinghamshire GC in August is a slightly surreal experience from the moment of arrival in the car park where men and ladies in white, one-piece romper suits and uniform flat caps tote the golfbags of men in Trilby hats.
It's Augusta National meets Goldfinger, the competitors looking like refugees from the famous golf scene in that film: although for many its more Basildon Bond than James when it comes to pushing the envelope of mimicry in terms of looks or golf game.
Image © Gary Bray / UNiCOM
The tournament, and indeed tour, is the brainchild of Savile Row tailor William Hunt, the premise being to offer golfers with a handicap of 18 or lower an inkling of what it is like to be a professional golfer for a day. Players sport trousers, shirts and belts from his range of clothing – it's an excellent value package for the €290 entrance fee – and one of his bespoke Trilby hats of their choice while their white boiler-suited caddies shoulder a Callaway golf bag he designed.
The beautifully manicured Druids Glen is swathed in sunshine, a perfect backdrop to a tournament that's run to professional standards. The red -jacketed, white Trilby-wearing officials help to foster the illusion of playing in a tour event.
Conversation reveals that many of the competitors have played practice rounds at the Wicklow course. The putting green and practice nets are busy. The first tee is awash with gallows humour, shallow breathing and sweaty palms. Playing alongside Ardee's Mark Halfpenny and the 2008 Irish and outright champion John Lynch, several indisputable facts emerge over the next five hours.
The person who suggested trees are 90 per cent air didn't play golf. Bob Rotella's assertion that golf is not a game of perfect is true but the book doesn't explain the sense of shame after slamming a tee shot into a tree twice in the first three holes.
Striking the ball with the hosel of a six-iron is not a satisfactory way to approach the fourth green, while trying to hit the ball left-handed with right-handed clubs and making decent contact is a pyrrhic victory.
Attempting to single putt for pars and, worse still, bogeys proves tough. Golf balls can't swim, don't listen and generally won't rebound to safety when striking a tree. Things don't automatically get any better on the back nine just because someone suggests they can't get any worse.
The reappearance of Sky Sports cameras on the eighth, 17th and 18th holes coincided with the following sequence: blank, blank, blank as a result of errant tee shots. Yet for all the travail on the course the day itself was hugely enjoyable.
Hunt has come up with a formula that will appeal to those competitive golfing enthusiasts from the 18 hole format to the three-hole play-off (top four Stableford scores) that decides the champion golfer on the day and the one shot chipping contest to eliminate any ties for the other seven places that go forward to the Buckinghamshire in August.
It's all part of an appeal that makes this event a unique experience in the Irish golfing calendar.
Pictured here with Mark Halfpenny (left) and John Lynch (middle), John O'Sullivan from The Irish Times (far right) reporting from the Ireland Championship at Druids Glen.