2002: Amateur - Beneficial breakup

Since 1958, Great Britain & Ireland has contested the World Amateur Team Championship (Eisenhower Trophy) as one team.

Not this year. The empire has been broken up.

England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales each will send its own three-man team to Kuala Lumpur in October.

On the face of it, that would seem to diminish the possibility of the Eisenhower Trophy traveling back to the British Isles after the Oct. 24-27 event. A combined GB&I team almost assuredly would have a better chance of winning the trophy than any of the four individual nations. Yet representatives of the four countries say the breakup of the GB&I side is the best development since metalwoods.

Welshman Nigel Edwards was selected for last year’s victorious GB&I Walker Cup team, but he never has played in the Eisenhower Trophy. He’ll get a chance this year to compete on the three-man Welsh team. Needless to say, he’s in favor of sending four teams.

“I’ve never really been in the top four (in the British Isles) to warrant a place on the Eisenhower Team,” Edwards said. “So from a personal point of view, I would have gained more experience of playing more around the world if the GB&I team had been split up earlier.

“Wales does not get much opportunity to play against teams like China, Japan, Australia. Now we can guarantee that at least three Welsh players will gain valuable international experience every two years.”

Gary Wolstenholme played in the Eisenhower in 1996 and 1998, helping GB&I win the ’98 tournament in Chile. “It has to be a good move,” he said. “In the past, we sent four GB&I players to the Eisenhower and they gained valuable international experience. Under the new format, we will be sending eight more players, which has to be better for everyone concerned.”

English captain Peter McEvoy played on five Eisenhower Trophy teams, including the victorious 1988 GB&I side in Stockholm, Sweden. He was GB&I captain two years ago, when his team finished second, 16 strokes behind the United States. He, too, believes the breakup is a positive for all four countries.

“When I was a player, I would have welcomed it because it would have meant more chance of competing in the event,” McEvoy said.

McEvoy made history last year when he captained GB&I to its first successful Walker Cup defense in 79 years.

“From a Walker Cup perspective, it also has to be a good thing because it means more GB&I players receive international experience,” he said.

There are, however, a few dissenting voices.

Sir Michael Bonallack, who played on every GB&I Eisenhower Trophy team between 1960 and 1972, was not in favor of splitting the GB&I squad.

“Since we’ve only managed to win four times with a GB and Ireland team, we’re hardly likely to win with individual sides,” Bonallack said when GB&I was split two years ago.

Hamish Grey, secretary of the Scottish Golf Union, disagrees.

“I’m from New Zealand, a country that won the Eisenhower trophy in 1992 and finished second in 1990,” Grey said. “They had less playing resources than at least three of the home countries, so there is no reason why we can’t be competitive individually.”

Until 2000, the GB&I team had been under the control of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, but there had been tales of discontent since 1995, when the Irish Golf Union first proposed sending its own national team. After GB&I finished second in Berlin two years ago, Scotland announced it wanted to send its own team to Kuala Lumpur. After that, all four nations got together with the R&A and agreed to send separate teams.

Seamus Smith, secretary of the Irish Golf Union, said there was a logical reason Ireland wanted its own team.

“The Eisenhower has been going since 1958, and we had not had very many players on that team over all those numbers of years,” Smith said. “The biggest stage for our amateur golfers is the Eisenhower Trophy, so rather than having one golfer on the team every two years or every four years, it’s better that we have a team of our own. If we want our players to be as good as the rest in the world, then we’ve got to compete at the very top.”

Another reason for four teams stems from the amount of money available from national sports councils. All four countries have received substantial money to help prepare their amateur golf teams.

“There is good funding there that we can give the players the type of coaching and sports science programs for the development of golf in Ireland,” Smith said. “Golf has been prioritized by the (Irish) Sports Council as a sport in which we can achieve international success, so therefore they are behind us to help us in any way they can.”

Richard Dixon, secretary of the Welsh Golf Union, said the Welsh men’s amateur team also has benefited financially from entering its own Eisenhower team.

“Sports councils and government bodies tend to work on world championships and Olympics and bigger events like that,” Dixon said.

The increases in funding mean that all four nations will be well prepared for this year’s Eisenhower. To give one example, the Irish elite eight-man team spent two weeks in South Africa earlier this year. It also played in the Sherry Cup in Sotogrande, Spain, and has been in Portugal for a week with the full national squad. Moreover, the team will take part in all of this year’s major amateur events in the British Isles. Plus, the players now receive intensive instruction from the national coach two days per month, and also spend two additional days per month with the national fitness coach.

“That would have been difficult to fund if not for Sports Council money,” Smith said.

Extra funding has allowed England, Scotland and Wales similar preparation. So perhaps Sir Michael Bonallack spoke too soon when he denounced the breakup of GB&I.

We’ll find out in October.

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