West is best: Change to original Rosses Point format gets thumbs up

Ronan MacNamara
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A view from the tee on the par 4, 10th hole at Sligo Golf Club (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Golf Ireland’s decision to revert back to the original West of Ireland Amateur Open Championship format has been met with widespread approval.

After a two-year trial period of 54-hole strokeplay qualifying with the top-16 advancing to the matchplay stages, Golf Ireland announced that the 2024 West of Ireland in Co. Sligo Golf Club would be changing back to the traditional 36 hole strokeplay qualifying with the top-64 advancing to the matchplay stages.

The jury was out on the new format during the two-year trial period with former West winner Caolan Rafferty and Tralee’s Darren O’Sullivan speaking out against the 54-16 set up.

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“100% there should’ve been a cut yesterday because there are a lot of guys playing pointless golf out there today,” said  O’Sullivan in 2022.

“Part of me thinks around three is a bit of a waste because it’s a long three days for anybody, especially at the bottom of the leaderboard,” said Rafferty.

Irish Golfer Magazine conducted an online poll to gauge how players and fans feel about the famous championship going back to the traditional 36-64 format.

On Instagram, 93% voted in favour of the decision while 82% gave the thumbs up on Twitter.

South of Ireland champion Colm Campbell opted to swerve last year’s centenary edition of the West and expressed his delight at the news of the traditional format being reinstated, otherwise he would not be competing.

“I think it’s the right decision in fairness, back to the traditional format,” said the two-time Irish Amateur Open winner.

“I know I for one am happy it’s back to the traditional format because if it had been the same format that it’s been for the last couple of years, I wouldn’t have been there. I’m delighted to see that.”

Campbell is particularly delighted to see the return of the 64-player knockout matchplay section, believing it will bring a sense of unpredictability back to the event.

“We’ve seen that before in the past, the last person in making a good fist of it. Look at what Quentin Carew did in the Irish Close and there are a couple of factors, the time of the year and also the expense of having to stay on that extra night when you don’t have a realistic chance of making the top-16 and it’s a no brainer what they have done.”

Castleknock man Quentin Carew is the modern day example of what can happen to the 64th qualifier after he snuck into the knockout stages of the 2022 Irish Close Championship before a dream run saw him topple Hugh Foley in Headfort. The Tallaght based Garda also feels the last-64 provides more opportunities for the working, part-time amateur to progress.

“The West changing back to the original 36 holes and 64 to qualify is better. Most lads would agree with it that it’s the better way given the time of year lads are only getting going, they might not have done much practice so at least with 64 there’s wiggle room.

“I was lucky enough to qualify for the last-16 last year but I played out of my skin for the first three days and that’s what you have to do. If you’re not playing well you haven’t much of a chance of qualifying for the last-16, at least with the 64 you can have a bad round or a bad few holes and you’re not out of it.

“Going into the matchplay anything can happen given my experience! I think it’s better that way, I’m a big pusher of matchplay it does help the lads who are the working amateur, it gives us a bit more of a chance so this is great to see and matchplay is always great craic so this is a very positive move and I think most lads would be happy with it.”

The format of the West wasn’t the only change on the Golf Ireland agenda with the Irish Women & Girls Open set for a revamp.

Golf Ireland will stage three Women’s and Girls’ competitions over a four-day period in a new ‘AIG Irish Women’s and Girls’ Amateur Close Championship week’ which will take place from 30 July to 2 August in Roscommon Golf Club.

On Days 1 and 2, there will be two 36-hole stroke play championships – the AIG Irish Girls’ Amateur Close Stroke Play Championship and the AIG Irish Over-18 Women’s Amateur Close Stroke Play Championship. The winners of each will be crowned AIG Close Stroke Play Champion in their respective category, with the top-12 scores across both of those championships joining four exempt players based on WAGR positions in the AIG Irish Women’s Amateur Close Championship on Days 3 and 4, which will consist of four rounds of match play.

Exemptions will only be given to players who have entered the Close but who are competing in the European Ladies’ Amateur Championship the previous weekend, and where fewer than four exemptions are extended, additional places will go to players based on scores on the first two days of the AIG Close Championship week.

In addition, the next 16 best scores in the AIG Irish Girls’ Amateur Close Championship on Days 1 and 2 will contest the Irish Girls’ Amateur Plate on Days 3 and 4. Likewise, the next 16 best scores in the AIG Irish Over-18 Women’s Amateur Close Championship will contest the Irish Women’s Amateur Plate on Days 3 and 4.

Irish Golfer Magazine ran another online poll with 89% voting in favour of the championship changes.

Another noticeable change is the age limit for the Mid-Amateur Championships this year. The age of eligibility has been reduced from 30 to 25 with 73% of readers voting against the motion.

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