Championship golf made its long-awaited return for Ireland’s top amateur golfers on Monday as the ISPS Handa Ulster Men’s and Women’s Stroke Play began at Royal County Down. Fittingly it is the first competitive event run by Golf Ireland since the new governing body came into existence in January of this year.
Following the opening 36 holes on day 1, Rowan Lester (Hermitage) and Aideen Walsh (Lahinch) set the pace in the men’s and women’s events.
Lester made four birdies in his opening 12 holes before signing for a 36-hole total of level par. The Ireland international will have a four-shot advantage over Joshua Hill (Galgorm Castle) and Alex Maguire (Laytown & Bettystown) when he begins his third-round on Tuesday.
Walsh’s total of four-over-par effort included an eagle in both rounds, on the par-5 13th and 15th holes. Building a significant lead, three bogeys to finish her afternoon round brought her back to the field but she’s still one-shot ahead of Shannon Burke (Ballinrobe) and a further two-shots clear of Deirdre Smith (Co. Louth).
The field of 81 amateurs is now cut to 54 for the final round, following which the top two male players and top female player earn a spot in the ISPS Handa World Invitational later this summer at Galgorm Castle and Massereene.
The ISPS HANDA World Invitational is a unique global event and part of the main European Tour, LPGA Tour and the Ladies European Tour. Sanctioned by the main global tours in world professional golf, it attracts some of the best players in the men’s and women’s game.
The inaugural ISPS HANDA World Invitational was played in 2019 and the men’s title was won by England’s Jack Senior, while homegrown favourite Stephanie Meadow won the women’s title.