A Glimpse of 2005

A Glimpse of the 2005 Pro-Am

- by Dermot Gilleece

Standing beside the putting green in the sylvan splendour of Adare Manor, Jenny and Sarah decided to text their friends. "Guess who we're looking at right now?," they teased. Then, unashamedly gloating, a follow-up message read: "Tiger Woods and Keith Wood _ that's who. What are you doing?"

The 16-year-old twins, who are junior members of Castleroy GC, were having a golfing experience to remember. When isolated early cloudbursts gave way to glorious sunshine, their home place became a haven for major celebrities from either side of the Atlantic. And they glowed with the excitement of it all.

Especially neat from their perspective, was how the spectacle catered for every age group, from toddlers to teenagers, like themselves, and then to the older folk with whom they would more readily have associated the tournament game. And they marvelled at the accessibility of the players and how well-organised everything seemed to be. And how it was all being done to help local charities.

How dare anybody put Limerick down, when it could play host to something as beautiful as this!

The girls would have found no argument among attendances which totalled almost 50,000 over the two days, creating an atmosphere more readily associated with the rare old times of the Irish Open. And they were treated to an appropriate climax when Padraig Harrington swept to a record, second-round 63 for ultimate victory by a six-stroke margin.

As it happened, the Dubliner had set another record on the opening day _ by using up a brand-new marker in only nine holes. "I can't imagine how many signatures that would be, but it's just fantastic out there," he enthused. "A lot of people are involved behind the scenes in helping JP bring a great assembly of players together for worthy causes, in what must be one of the most lovely places in Ireland."

Traversed by the charming River Maigue, Adare was indeed a delightful place to be on those memorable, July days. And imagining how it might have looked in earlier times, one was reminded of the words of Tennyson ... "On either side the river lie, long fields of barley and of rye, that clothe the wold and meet the sky ......" Now, on the same land, the architectural skills of another old master, Robert Trent Jones, was presenting a golfing test for some of the world's leading practitioners.

Like the rest of us, Harrington recognised the event wasn't about birdies, bogeys or prize money: it was about making a real difference to the less fortunate in our midst. So it was that he looked awestruck at the throngs of spectators, flanking the fairway and green at the 13th, which was his finishing hole after a shotgun start.

Afterwards, he talked once more of the pleasure of plying his craft before wonderfully responsive galleries. Then, referring to his partners from Charleville Community Care, he captured the essence of the pro-am format by remarking: "It's a great distraction when you are trying to read your team's putts and generally support what they're doing."

Trevor Immelman dominated play on the opening day with a sparkling, eight-under-par 64. But the gifted South African happily deferred to the drawing power of El Tigre, who had arrived with seven US Tour colleagues in appropriate style, having travelled by private jet from the Western Open at Cog Hill in Chicago. "It's special for all of us to come to an event like this and support a good friend," he said. "JP does amazing things and when he asks for your support, you can't wait to give it."

And despite feeling feverish and sniffling uncomfortably, he proved his commitment to the cause by carding an admirable 67 which started with a birdie on the 15th _ his opening hole. All the while, his warmth towards spectators prompted within us renewed respect for the older virtues of humility, dignity and style.

"This is a wonderful golf course," declared the reigning US Masters champion. "If they had the rough up, with a couple of tougher pins and faster greens, it would be a really great test."

Later, before heading for a well-earned rest, there was a gentle chiding for those who might have suspected his thoughts were miles away, on a celebrated location in the Region of Fife. "This is not about preparing for the Open," he said. "This is about enjoying 36 holes of golf in good company." Which, on the opening day, happened to include Martin McAleese, husband of Mary McAleese, President of Ireland.

Before he departed the scene, however, there was candid talk of St Andrews. And priceless pointers to prospective punters about his prospects the following week, when he captured the Open for a second time."

Such matters were far from the thoughts of Jenny and Sarah. "Seeing Tiger in the flesh was kinda weird," they recalled. "But the thing we remember best, was how happy everybody seemed." And for event organisers, tributes don't come better than that.