The Irish pairing of Olivia Byrne and John Murphy secured a thrilling win in The R&A 9 Hole Challenge Final at Royal Liverpool.
Over 100,000 golfers from all over the world entered nine-hole qualifying events in the hope of securing the opportunity to play the Championship course just days before the world’s best men’s golfer compete in The 151st Open.
First staged in 2016, The R&A 9 Hole Challenge encourages people to compete in a shorter format of the sport, with players from Great Britain and Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and, for the first time, Argentina, France and South Africa participating to be one of the 38 finalists in action at Hoylake.
From the 19 team pairings, it was the Irish duo from Glenlo Abbey Golf Club – a nine-hole course in Galway, Ireland – who won the Stableford competition with a nett aggregate score of 36 points to take the 2023 title.
Following a card countback for second place, their compatriots Susan McKnight and Alan McKnight (Cork) finished as runners-up on 30 points ahead of the Australian pair of Erin Del Pizzo and David Baker who claimed third place.
While three teams took home trophies, it was agreed by all finalists that the real prize was the dream opportunity to play the venue in championship conditions, including the two new closing holes at Hoylake.
Murphy said: “It’s unbelievable to have won. We come from a small little club in the west of Ireland and this is beyond our wildest dreams. We thought the prize was getting to play Royal Liverpool, but to have won is incredible.”
In challenging conditions over Hoylake, which saw nature throw wind and rain at the players, golfers with a handicap index ranging from eight to 45 enjoyed the unforgettable opportunity.
Byrne said: “It’s a tough course, especially for an amateur. I only took up golf three years ago so it was challenging, but we managed.”
Murphy added: “The course is in fabulous condition. To have the opportunity to play it is amazing, despite the windy, wet weather.”
Coming from a nine-hole golf club, both Murphy and Byrne highlighted the benefits of playing the shorter format competitively.
Byrne said: “The nine hole format is perfect for people who don’t have the time to play eighteen holes. I started playing with a friend and she helped me after seeing my shots go all over the place. I stuck with it, and got better and better over time. I really enjoy it.”
Murphy adding: “I had a car accident a few years ago so it’s not possible for me to play a full eighteen holes at the moment. I joined a nine hole club in 2015 and we play with friends three or four times in the evening during the week. You can get in and out in under two hours after work so it’s great.
“There were 100,000 people who started out in the competition and when word gets out about how great this event is, there will be 200,000.”
Sharing Murphy’s enthusiasm for seeing The R&A 9 Hole Challenge continue to flourish was Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, who said: “Every year we are seeing more people compete in The R&A 9 Hole Challenge with it’s popularity spreading all over the world. It was fantastic to welcome golfers from our new participating nations, Argentina, France and South Africa and to see all the finalists enjoying their day at Royal Liverpool.
“For people looking for an alternative option to eighteen hole golf this event showcases that nine hole golf can be played competitively by people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds and most importantly enjoyed!”
“This year we had a record number of nine hole rounds played by people looking to qualifying for this incredible opportunity to compete on golf’s biggest stage and I would encourage everyone dreaming of doing the same to enter a qualifying competition at your local club. Royal Troon beckons in 2024.”
The R&A 9 Hole Challenge, first staged in 2016, is central to the organisation’s wider drive to promote this form of golf as an ideal way to enjoy playing the sport in less time, either recreationally or competitively for handicap purposes, and experience the physical and mental health benefits golf provides.
There has been an impressive growth of nine-hole golf in recent years, aided by the ease of the new World Handicap System to submit scores and the ability of golf to be played safely in a number of countries during the Covid-19 pandemic.