Darren O'Connell - All roads lead to Tullamore for the VIII Irish Open

"Preparations are progressing very well for the Irish Open," confirmed Darren O'Connell when we spoke to the former Tullamore Club Chairman just as entries were about to finally close for the July 22/24, 2022 event.

Interest has been high from the overseas Pitch and Putt fraternity even if Darren had just received a cancellation notice from nine British entrants. "We have 48 International players who will automatically be in the Irish Open, confirms Darren.

"Each player will receive a voucher for their meals at a top-class restaurant in the town," declares Darren, so Catering is already well sorted. 

Does the lead organiser have any concerns about the distance from the Irish airports to Tullamore? "We haven't heard that," says Darren, "and we will arrange transportation to/from if anybody needs it. Most of the overseas players plan to hire cars."

In this sobering time of our sport in Ireland, Tullamore plan a very special trophy for the event. "I reached out to John Walsh (a close friend of the Murphy family). We were planning to purchase a trophy for the Open in memory of Shane (RIP). Weeshie wants to buy the trophy himself. We are arranging to inscribe the names of all the previous winners on the trophy so the Shane Murphy Trophy will become the permanent symbol of supremacy at the Irish Open.

Tullamore's arch-rivals but friendly neighbours Erry have been very helpful in the organization of the Open. "I experienced the 6-hole Matchplay warm-up tournament in Holland one year," says Darren. He's not a big fan of that format. "Erry will host a Scramble on the Friday, followed by a barbecue," enthuses Darren, who recently relinquished the chairmanship of Tullamore after a seven-year term.

In addition to the Scramble what other social events can visitors to Tullamore expect? "We expect to conclude a deal with one of the larger pubs in Tullamore while the clubhouse will see a number of equipment companies showcasing their wares," explains Darren.

"I'm working with Balon Sports to develop a special commemorative polo shirt for the Open," says Darren and speaks very highly of Stephen, Pitch and Putt's contact in Balon.

Will all of the top Irish players be on view for the Open? "Most of them will be," avers Darren. "I don't think Damien (Fleming) is playing, but players like John Cahill (who loves the place as does his partner MaryAnne) has already been seen practising on the course!"

Tullamore don't plan any modifications to the course so the classic Tullamore championship layout will form the amphitheatre for this hugely popular tournament, now in its eighth staging. Darren professes himself happy with the course set-up. "We've made so many changes over the years and we're satisfied."

An All Ireland Strokeplay championship runner-up (at Tullamore) in 2016, Darren plans to play in the Open. And he hopes history will repeat itself. "I didn't have much time to practise in 2016 until the last few weeks before the championship," he recalls, but he still managed a superb performance to finish second behind a rampaging Liam O'Donovan. The plan is similar for the 2022, sustained practice once all the preparations are in place. And there are still plenty of preparations to be completed.

Over the past month (April), we have received 234 entries from both Irish and International players. It is a fantastic number, which we did not expect to be so high but it is a welcome headache. That's why I set the international closing date before the Irish closing date," explains Darren of the seven day window between both dates as he goes on to describe the domestic pre-qualifier. "This means we need qualifiers for the Irish entrants as the maximum number of players we can accommodate is 180. Of the 180 spots, 91 have been filled so far.

The 48 overseas players (which includes five ladies) will be joined by 11 Irish Ladies, all of whom have been granted an exempt slot to ensure a meaningful ladies field. "We're giving 23 spots to Tullamore Pitch & Putt club members who are working tirelessly to prepare the course," confirms Darren, "and we have nine spots for the Irish Open organising committee, the reigning Irish Open Champion, Irish number ones and special guests."

"This leaves us with 89 spots to fill for July, which will be confirmed after qualifiers in both Leinster and Munster. 143 players will play for these places and the qualifying numbers for each province have been determined a on pro-rata basis. There will 88 (55 to qualify) players in Leinster and 55 (34) in Munster. The qualifiers will take place on Sunday 22nd May and I would like to place on record my thanks and appreciation to both Hillview and Rathfeigh Pitch & Putt clubs who have been so understanding and accommodating as we are clashing with their scratch cups. I have chosen two great courses (Navan and Larkspur Park) for the qualifiers that are located 20 minutes respectively from Rathfeigh and Navan in the hope that players will support both Scratch Cups after they have played their Irish Open qualifier. Thank you to both Navan and Larkspur Park for accepting my request."

"We plan 4 shotgun starts with 15 threeballs in each wave," is how Darren describes how the Irish Open will be set-up on the opening day - Saturday 23td July.

Darren has been busy over the past while but has found the task rewarding. "It is a tough event to organise and it can be stressful at times but we at Tullamore will be ready to showcase our great club and course to all players and supporters who will be attending this fantastic tournament."