A Look Back: The 2016 Premier Golf International Pro-Am in Northern Ireland
With magnificent sunny weather seemingly provided by the Ireland Tourism Bureau, Premier Golf’s 2016 International Pro-Am in Northern Ireland in early May was a rousing success.
“It was quite amazing,” said Ann Mabry, managing director of Premier Golf, who hosted the trip. “Everybody diligently packed all of their rain suits and umbrellas and they never had to use any of them.”
Upon arrival on Sunday, some players decided to hit the links and play away the jet lag, so to speak, at Castlerock Golf Club, a links course founded in 1901 that sits at the mouth of the River Bann in the seaside village of Castlerock.
Everyone gathered that evening for a bountiful buffet dinner at the newly renovated Royal Portrush Golf Club clubhouse.
“It was an unbelievable feast with lots of beef, lamb, ham and delicious desserts,” Mabry said. “It was one of best selections of food I’ve seen on all of our international pro-am events. The chef did an outstanding job for our group.”
After the sumptuous dinner, the participants gravitated to the balcony overlooking the 18thhole, with a cold libation in hand, to watch golfers finishing their rounds. Darkness in Ireland this time of the year doesn’t come till 10:30 p.m. so the viewing party was a lengthy one.
The next day--like every day on the trip--started with a delicious traditional Irish breakfast, which includes bacon, local sausages, black and white puddings, fried eggs, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, hash browns, homemade bread and butter with jam, and a cup of coffee or tea.
With everyone inspired by the lush Irish countryside and friendly local citizens, the group played a practice round on Monday at Ballyliffin Golf Club in the County of Donegal on the Inishowen Peninsula. Ballyliffin is noted for its towering natural dunes and enormous bunkers.
The competitive juices were flowing when the tournament started on Tuesday at Royal Portrush Golf Club, a 36-hole complex of Harry Colt designed golf that will host the 2019 Open Championship.
After the last putt dropped in the bottom of the cup, our group gathered for a whiskey tasting at Bushmills Distillery followed by dinner in Portrush. The small seaside town was bustling with motorcyclists who were there to compete in the Northwest 200, a popular event in the region.
The evening’s restaurant choice, The Ramore Wine Bar and Bistro in Portrush, was a superb dining experience with an eclectic menu dotted with specialties like fish pie, filet steak Wellington and freshly battered North Atlantic Cod.
On Wednesday, the group checked into the luxurious 181-room Slieve Donard Resort & Spa. Set approximately 150 yards from the Royal County Down Golf Club, the wonderfully appointed Grand Victorian hotel is surrounded by six impeccably landscaped acres.
A beautiful sunrise greeted us on Thursday, which put our group in a great frame of mind to play Royal County Down, the spectacular course at the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne. Ranked No. 1 in Golf Digest’s World 100 Greatest Golf Courses, it’s a wonderland of blind drives, smallish greens with dips and rolls and roller coaster-like fairways framed with purple heather and yellow gorse.
“We had such a fantastic day at Royal County Down with beautiful weather and terrific playing conditions,” Mabry said. “It’s truly a special place.”
The group celebrated playing the world’s number one course by dining and toasting at different restaurants in the area, then all meeting at a local bar in Newcastle for a lively night of music and dancing.
Friday’s venue was Ardglass Golf Club, a course with dramatic elevation changes offering stunning panoramas of the Irish Sea from every hole.
Mabry said the group was overwhelmed with the beauty of Ardglass and all considered it a hidden gem that must be played when visiting the north of Ireland.
A beautifully appointed dining room with mountain views was the setting for the 3-course, sit-down, farewell dinner at the Slieve Donard Hotel.
Led by head professional Kyaw Htet of Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Florida, the winning team was Barry Nelson, Arn Victorine and Rich DeGregorio. The pro-am competitors included two full ladies teams.
Enhancing the celebratory emotions of the week were recently married Arn Victorine and Michelle Sharp, who tied the knot two weeks before the Pro-Am and were including it as part of their honeymoon.
“We all enjoyed celebrating this special time with Arn and Michelle,” Mabry said.
She added, “Everyone is a winner on our international pro-ams. The real prizes are the laughs, great camaraderie, friendly competition and wonderful memories. That’s the main reason we always have so many returning golfers year after year.”