Westmeath took both titles in the inaugural Intermediate and Junior Inter-County challenges in Lough Owel on Saturday last. Pride of place must go to the Westmeath County Board and the Lough Owel club for running this fantastic event. The competition was the brain-child of Westmeath Chairman James Corcoran and he has worked tirelessly over the past 12 months to ensure that the event took place. The reception that the event got from the participating counties was nothing short of tremendous and already it looks like this is an event that will grow and grow.
Proceeding kicked off at 10.30 am on a manicured Lough Owel course that surely is destined for future championships and is a great addition to the Pitch and Putt circuit. The format was stapleford with 3 scotch foursomes doubles and 6 singles – all scores to count. The Junior Challenge was the opening competition of the day and four counties took part, namely Westmeath, Dublin, Offaly and Kildare. The opening pairing for Westmeath was Collinstown’s Clive Byrne and Gary Middleton. The lads set the standard with a superb 3 under par gross round to give them 39 points. Next up was Mark Kelly and Martin White who had a very solid 36 points and finally Lee Stynes and Declan Murphy signed for 38 points to give Westmeath a total of 113. This gave the Lake County a 7 points lead over second place Dublin at the half-way stage.
The singles got under way and again the boys in maroon did not let us down. Collinstown’s Gary Middleton recorded the best singles of anyone all day with a superb 42 points. This was backed up by Lough Owel’s Lee Stynes with 40 points. This gave Westmeath a great platform to close out the rest of the competition and they made no mistake. Martin White recorded a 3 under par round for 39 points and this was closely followed by John Sweeney’s 37 points. Declan Murphy had 36 points and finally Collinstown’s Clive Byrne signed for 35 points. All this totaled up to 342 points for Westmeath and gave them a whopping 42 points victory over Dublin.
And so we wondered could the Intermediate team make it a double. The tag of home team and favourites was a heavy burden for the Westmeath men but it was a label that they wore well. Five counties participated in this challenge with Wexford added to the four counties mentioned above. The opening pairing of Custume’s Pat Stevens and John Joyce recorded a solid 37 points. Next in though was the best doubles score of the day and it was from Collinstown’s own Martin Carter and Lough Owel’s Dessie Baker. The pair shot an 8 under par round to accumulate 44 points. This was backed up well by the final pairing of Collinstown’s Stephen Ruane and Lough Owel’s Niall Corcoran with 42 points. So Westmeath’s total after the doubles was 123 points – just 5 points ahead of second place Dublin.
The pressure started to build during the singles round though as word came through that the Dublin team were performing well. Meanwhile some of the Westmeath team were finding trouble with the monstrous front 9 that Lough Owel is famously known for. Manager Davy Corcoran had a word in the ears of the players though, letting them know what was required. This seemed to do the trick as the Westmeath men all finished with a flurry of birdies. First in was Colinstown’s Darren Reilly who signed for 34 points. Next was Papa Stevens who recovered from a couple over par to shot a respectable 36 points. Martin Carter also pulled back a round that was in trouble early on and in the end shot a solid 35 points. A very gutsy performance from Niall Corcoran saw him recover from 5 over after 8 to get it back to a level par round and 36 points. Team captain Dessie Baker had an excellent 38 points and the best was saved for last. Collinstown’s Stephen Ruane brought home 39 points to seal victory for the men in maroon. The final total was 341 which was 13 shots ahead of second placed Dublin.
Both Westmeath teams were delighted with their victory but I think the real winners on the day was Pitch and Putt. This new competition was a breath of fresh air to the calender and both players and spectators alike went home with smiles on their faces after an excellent day of entertainment.