BMGA IRISH OPEN 2006
Belfast, 20 May, 2006
System: adventure golf
Hans Olofsson wins
As the guidebook says "Belfast, Capital of the North, Ireland's second city always surprises visitors, one way or another. Some expect riot and destruction and others find it oddly quiet."
Perhaps this is how those BMGA, international and first-time Irish minigolf players that turned up at Pirates Adventure Golf, Dundonald, just outside Belfast, now reflect on the competition that took place on Saturday May 20.
Without doubt, everyone was surprised - pleasantly so. The course is excellent - well-designed, well-built and well run. In fact, our hosts, Amanda and Barry Hobson and Jeff Thompson pulled out all the stops to make the day go well. They provided the BMGA with its own clubhouse and outdoor toilets (the doors of which did not bang even though the days and nights were windy). And they conjured up some bright weather when the rest of the British Isles was subjected to constant rain. We all appreciated this top-class hospitality.
As for riots and destruction, the former were judiciously averted but the latter did materialize.
There was, nonetheless, some unrest. To the Irish contingent, the sight of the British and international competitors tooled up for battle with the rubber-capped clubs and with more balls than they could shake a hurling stick caused some eyebrows to be raised. But this was not a day for arch rivalry but good-natured competition.
Riots were stopped by a decision by the referees - Jon Angel and Lionel Bender - to switch off the cannons and turn down the waterjets for fear of the winds carrying spray on to the course and players. [Nonetheless, the decks had to be swept before the competition started, to remove the overnight rainpuddles.] With the course being more skill-based than the Brits are usually used to, international players were expected to do well and they lived up to their reputations. Hans Olofsson, the ice-cool Swede who had recently won the US Minigolf Masters, set about cutting through the competition like a swashbuckler slices through devilish rascals. While some BMGA players did themselves proud on the battlefield, others were destroyed by the salvo of fine shots from the overseas players and for some local players. A couple more BMGA players - along with most of the local players - self-destructed.
The first two rounds brought their own surprises. Players were split between the Blackbeard's Adventure course and the Captain's Challenge course. The first course proved to be more challenging, resulting in the leading scores here after the first round - 34 from Hans Olofsson [a course record] - being several shots adrift of those on Captains's Challenge. There, Marek Spidra and Olivia Prokopova - both from the Czech Republic - set the scene with scores of 29 and 30 respectively, but then were matched by scores of 29 from Hans Olofsson and the BMGA's Chris Harding. The battle was on for the third round and the cut.
Play continued on the Captain's Challenge course. The field started to take shape. A small group - the Magnificent Seven - set itself above the other players. Here, competition was nail-biting. Hans Prescher from Germany and Hans Olofsson set a high standard. Tim Davies, Keith Kellard and Chris Harding kept the flag flying for the BMGA and were in close contention. Most of the local players, new to the game of minigolf sport, did fade except for valiant efforts from the likes of Jonathan Livingstone and Stephen O'Lone. They had split their overseas armada asunder. Among the top 21 players that made the cut, 5 were locals. It also showed two BMGA casualties - Russ Dent and John Moore.
And so to the final round. This was to be a truly international competition for the prize money. Players from Sweden, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland entered the arena to cheers and applause from the crowd that had gathered. Play went true to form of the earlier rounds, with Hans Olofsson extending his lead - and setting a course record here, too - and the other contenders battling to keep their slim margins intact. However, at the end of the fourth round there were players tying for second and fifth places. In the play offs, Chris Harding shot himself in the foot with a poor first shot on the second fairway, and Keith Kellard followed suit with his second shot on the second fairway.
And so to the prize-giving, award ceremony and speeches - and the photographs. Our hosts, Pirates Adventure Course, had specially produced giant cheques as prizes and these proved as difficult for the winners to carry off as bags full of pieces-of-eight. However, Hans Oloffson, the first-ever Irish Open Minigolf Champion, carried off not only his cheque and prize money but a magnificent winner's cup. Let's hope he returns next year to defend his title [return the cup, and retrieve his deposit for it].
Finally, as for the guidebook's reference to 'oddly quiet', we had this too. The BMGA's own Ted (John) McIver didn't fail to deliver. At the best of times, he can seem both odd and quiet, but for those that know him well, his lack of outlandish attire was certainly odd. In fact, he was upstaged by a bunch of piratanical 5-year-olds who had clearly raided and cleared out the charity shops before his ship came in. And his at times less-than-usual skilful play reduced him to quiet. But then he did get one of his balls up to a place others could not reach. The referee decided 8-inches was OK, but he could not go straight in the hole. This almost brought tears to his eyes. Yet he made a fine recovery stroke.
Let us all hope that our stroke-play will be up for next year's Irish Open in Belfast.
Words: Lionel Bender
L=local N=Novice * BMGA record
Half the field played the Captains Challenge in Round 1, the other half played Blackbeards Adventure
Pictures: Ace Man & F1
Pictures: Jon Angel
Pictures of the course