If you’ve never been to Headfort Golf Club, then I could think of no better time than now to hop in the car and make the trip.
If you didn’t know, the stars of Europe’s secondary Challenge Tour are in town; a mix of experienced players looking to reach the heights of old and young pretenders vying for promotion from a launching pad in Kells.
If you’re a bargain hunter like me, then look no further. The event is free to enter – you simply have to register for tickets to gain inside the ropes access to a conveyor belt of talent crushing the ball as impressively as 95% of those on the Main Tour.
I was lucky enough to play in Wednesday’s Pro-Am where the rain didn’t stop for five an half hours straight and I still would’ve happily played on for five and a half more. Why? Certainly not to revisit my own golf but hearing the sound of a crisply struck two iron, the ball trampolining off a blade so sharp you could cut your steak with it, will never cease to amaze me.
I’d argue, given the access available on these secondary tours, that there’s more satisfaction to be gleaned from following these lads up close and personal than battling for air space in crowds ten deep following the household names of the sport.
Oh, and what a golf course. I covered the tournament when it last visited Headfort in 2019 and it’s no surprise to see it back on the schedule having stood up to the pros with only three managing double digits under par back then.
The par-71 course is playing every inch of its 6,500 yards this week after all the rain we’ve had but the earth was taking the moisture well and the greens remained lightning quick, much to my detriment
We played nine holes with Jonathan Yates from Naas and another nine with Benjamin Follett-Smith from Zimbabwe. Yates sits 285th on the Road to Mallorca and Follett-Smith sits 8th – the top-20 at season’s end earning DP World Tour promotion. Both players couldn’t speak higher of the golf course, though it was Follett-Smith’s first visit to Ireland and he hadn’t seen the sun since he landed.
His caddie Matt had no idea how we put up with the weather, as if we had a choice, but in saying that, he’d already found a watering hole in Kells where he went for his first proper Irish Guinness… and a second… and a third… and a few more after that which made him realise that there’s ways in which we soften the blow of our climate.
“It’s true what they say,” he told me. “The Guinness doesn’t travel well!”
Matt was staying in a container in the town with three other caddies for €100 per head for the week. He planned to drink twice that in porter. Hopefully his employer would play well. Meanwhile, Follett-Smith was staying in a bougie bed and breakfast: “A couple more missed cuts and I’ll be back in the container with him!”
It’s Follett-Smith’s first season on the Challenge Tour. He’d lost his card on the Asian Tour by $14,000 last year. He found starts hard to come by when a certain LIV Golf series began handing out invites to established players not in need. A classy baller, Smith won his first Challenge Tour event close to home earlier this year in Cape Town. Like every player teeing up this week in Headfort, he hopes this season on the circuit is his last.
The schedule’s barely reached its halfway point but Headfort can provide a springboard for players on both ends of the Road to Mallorca spectrum to stake their claim for a Main tour card. As ever, there’s no shortage of Irish interest and while Conor Purcell’s stunning five-birdie closing blitz in an opening 66 was the best the Irish could muster on day one, there’s a bunch of others knowing a Friday charge could set up a possibly life-changing week in the Royal County.
And I don’t exaggerate when I say that. There’s only fourteen Irish players in the field this week – fewer still will make the cut – and while Purcell sets a bold standard, whoever fares best of the fourteen at week’s end will be the proud recipient of the Christy O’Connor Jnr Trophy, and a lucrative Horizon Irish Open invite.
$6million will be up for grabs at the K Club when McIlroy et al come to town this September. A far cry from the €250,000 prize fund being fought for this week in Kells. But it’s not the money that makes the secondary tour interesting, it’s the diverse stories that are worthy of personal investment. And by that I mean signing up for a free ticket to Headfort to feast your eyes on the future champions of our great game.
You’d be mad to miss out on that.