The European Challenge Tour will visit Headfort Golf Club for the first time when the Stone Irish Challenge closes the curtain on a superb summer of success for Irish golf.
The Emerald Isle’s charmed season began in January, with the announcement of Padraig Harrington as the next Captain of Team Europe for The 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. The Dubliner, one of Ireland’s most beloved sports stars, played on four winning Ryder Cup sides before serving as vice-captain in the last three editions of the event.
Only a week later, all eyes turned to Harrington’s countryman and friend Shane Lowry, who birdied the 72nd hole to win his first Rolex Series title by one shot at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA. The win moved Lowry into the world’s top–50, and most importantly, kick-started the incredible run of Irish success on the course.
The good times rolled on into county Dublin where Mallow man James Sugrue became only the seventh Irish golfer to win The Amateur Championship and the first to do so on home soil since Joe Carr took the title for a third time at Royal Portrush in 1960.
Large galleries turned out to watch the thrilling final match at Portmarnock as the 22-year-old sealed a 2up victory. With his late-June triumph, Sugrue earned coveted berths to play The Open Championship at Portrush, as well as next year’s Masters Tournament.
Sugrue’s heroics also sealed one of the great honours in the amateur game – selection for the Great Britain & Ireland team to play the Walker Cup, where he was eventually joined by two other Irish golfers.
A fortnight after Sugrue’s victory, two more of the island’s promising young stars made a big impression at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open as they both threatened the leaderboard over the weekend at Lahinch Golf Club.
The Rolex Series event, which was being hosted for the first time by another one of Ireland’s Ryder Cup Captains, Paul McGinley, was a resounding success. A total of 86,793 fans – with sell-outs on both weekend days – flocked to the seaside venue for a sun-soaked week that transformed the quiet town of Lahinch into the epicentre of a bonafide summer festival.
Jon Rahm ultimately prevailed on the County Clare links, winning Ireland’s national open for a second time in three years, much to the delight of the massive crowds.
The 148th Open Championship, which was returning to the island of Ireland, and Royal Portrush, for the first time in 68 years, was always going to be one of the highlights of the 2019 golfing calendar in Ireland.
It was the sort of occasion that was so anticipated, tickets to attend had been sold out for over a year. The fans, who persisted through a week of cold temperatures, strong winds and steady rain, were rewarded for their commitment in the greatest way possible, as Lowry elevated his game to new heights and lifted the Claret Jug in a masterclass six-shot victory, which immortalised the 32-year-old instantaneously amongst the home fans.
Nothing would top Lowry’s Open triumph, but nevertheless, the good times rolled on for Irish golf.
For the first time in Europe, male and female professionals competed for equal prize money as the ISPS Handa World Invitiational Men | Women presented by Modest! Golf Management arrived at Galgorm Spa and Resort in County Antrim.
The tournament itself received high-praise, but local talent Stephanie Meadow brought added thrills for the home-crowds as she battled nerves and a strong field to win the women’s tournament by a single shot over England’s Charlie Hull.
Now, the Challenge Tour steps into focus again. With players like Cormac Sharvin—currently sixth on the Road to Mallorca Rankings—and Dawson, who was runner-up at The Amateur Championship last year, quickly establishing themselves as up and coming stars.
It is impossible to predict how the leaderboard will turn out at Headfort Golf Club’s New Course, but after the year that has been for golf in Ireland, the Stone Irish Challenge, now only one month away, could provide the perfect finish to an unforgettable season for golf in Ireland.