FRANK SMYTH, a long and loyal member of Clonmel Golf Club, recently had the sporting experience of a lifetime, an all-expenses paid trip to South Africa and a round of golf in an official European Tour event in the company of two world class professionals.
The amazing prize was fully earned the hard way by Frank who had to pre-qualify with rounds at Mount Juliet (Kilkenny), Druids Glen (Wicklow) and Killeen Castle (Meath). Along the way he had to make full use of his vast golfing knowledge and the helping hand of ‘Lady Luck’ before embarking on the never-to-be-forgotten adventure.
In total 1,500 Irish golfers started out in pursuit of just two places and over a couple of months, and 30 qualifying competitions, the huge entry field was whittled down to 45 for the final day. On the deciding day at the magnificent championship course that is Killeen Castle, 15 handicapper Frank shot 38 points to finish in a heartbreaking third position, just outside the “South Africa” prizes. Another everyday golfing tale of woe in the 19th hole it seemed at the time.
As luck would have it the runner-up, a Dublin businessman, due to pressure of work, was unable to travel and so Frank was on his way last month to hob-knob it around Durban in the company of some of the world’s elite professionals.
Following two practice rounds, the Volvo World Golf Challenge for the 67 global amateurs took place over 36 holes at the Zimbali Country Club course located about 40 minutes outside of Durban. Every nationality in the world where Volvo do business seemed to be present from Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa. After 36 holes of play on the Wednesday and Thursday, Peter Jones, a 13 handicapper, from London, was declared winner.
The top 17 finishers in the Volvo World Golf Challenge amateur event would play the following day amongst the professionals at the Durban Country Club in the Volvo Golf Champions event, the only tournament on the European Professionals Tour where amateurs play alongside the pros.
Because Frank finished joint 17th after 36 holes, a better countback was needed before he could take his place on the teebox in the company of victorious 2012 Ryder Cup captain José Maria Olazabal and German Marcel Siem. Luck fell on his side again.
The day itself was a dream for Frank. “Arriving at the Durban Country Club at 5.30 am for breakfast with the pros was unbelieveable,” he said. And it got better as the day went on. Putting aside the pressure of the occasion, the galaxy of professionals, the daunting course and the big crowds, Frank was very pleased with his game which included no less than three birdies. “I holed two putts from about 25 yards and also got a 30 foot putt on the Index 1 Par 4 for par.
“At the next tee box Olazabal turned to Marcel Siem to say ‘we will have to get some putting lessons afterwards from Frank’. At this stage our three-man team were in real contention but the two ‘boys’ banished their drives on the next and we were out of it.”
Such is the importance of the competition that Volvo awards each of the two pros on the winning team a brand new V40 car, a superb prize in its own right. Alas not this year for José and Marcel, but don’t blame Clonmel’s Frank Smyth.
Incidentally the professionals event was won by South African Louis Oosthuizen, a former winner of the British Open.
Frank had nothing only good things to say about the event and the Volvo organisation of his golfing odyssey from Mount Juliet to Durban. The seven-day trip was fantastic in every detail, he said. “You couldn’t spend money there and Volvo laid on a different type of function every night for all the amateurs. We were given ‘access all areas’ cards and were treated so well.”
“Marcel Siem,” he said “was good fun and spoke all the way round the course. Olazabal said very little but was chatty before and after the golf.” Thomas Bjorn and Colin Montgomerie were to the fore in the corporate side, along with Nick Faldo’s former caddy Swede Fanny Sunesson. When Frank came in touch with Montgomerie he said “Monty couldn’t have been any nicer.”
Frank commented: “To play at the Volvo World Golf Challenge final in Zimbali Golf Resort, South Africa was a fantastic experience. However stepping over the ropes to play with Marcel Siem and José Maria Olazabal in an actual European Tour event was simply unbelievable”.
The Volvo World Golf Challenge has evolved into a global event for club golfers which is continuing to grow, year on year. It is truly multi-national, beginning at home and culminating in a celebration of golf at the annual World Final; an event where golfing dreams really do come true.
Golf is very much a family thing with the Smyths who have been lifelong supporters and members of Clonmel Golf Club. Frank’s wife Mary is one of the leading ladies at Lyreanearla while son Gavin is a excellent +1 handicap golfer and regularly features in some of the top amateur events on the Irish circuit. Then again didn’t his father once play on the European Professionals Tour! True!