This week’s staging of the North of Ireland Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush marks a significant milestone for one of the club’s favourite sons, Ian Bamford.
Sixty years ago, the then 20-year-old, a second year law student at Trinity College Dublin, crushed Scottish opponent, J Coulter, 6&5 to win the first of his North of Ireland titles.
It would take Bamford a further 18 years to repeat his feat and win the North again, but that first victory remains fresh in his memory.
“I graduated from boys golf along with the likes of John Glover and Norman Drew who were top class players of the era,” said Bamford, who will be back at Royal Portrush this week to see if Moyola Park’s Chris Selfridge can retain his title.
“I entered the North when it was only a three day event in 1952 but didn’t make the cut.
“However, in 1953 I made the cut and was beaten 2&1 in a close final by another Royal Portrush member, Colin Knox.
“In 1954 I had won the British Universities title at St Andrews and I was in good form going into the tournament, eventually making it to the final to face a stuffy St Andrews character called Mr J Coulter.
“He was 36 years old and really no-one knew much about him other than he had won quite a lot of titles in Scotland.
“I was very confident and I remember saying to my father, ‘If I don’t beat this old man, I better give up the game’.”
The North of Ireland has undergone a number of format changes over the years but in the early 50s, only the top eight qualified for the match-play stages and the final, was a 36 hole affair.
“It was a dull day, but there was a good crowd around, maybe 300/400 people and after the first 18 holes I edged ahead, one up,” added Ian.
“Back in those days, with no money, I had to cycle home to get my lunch and then cycle back in time for the second 18.
“I made a fast start to the second 18 and quickly got three or fours holes ahead. I knew then that the key was not to make any mistakes and I parred the rest of the holes to win 6&5.
“It was was very exciting win, the North was always a prestigious title to win and it meant a lot to me as I had played all my golf at the club.”
Ian’s success didn’t stop at the North, he won 10 Irish caps in total, won the Irish Amateur Open in 1957 and then managed to claim a second North of Ireland title as a 39-year-old in 1972.
However, the first one remains his most treasured victory and not simply because of the personal significance of winning at ‘home’.
“As a result of winning of winning the North, I got to play an exhibition match to open Omagh GC alongside Harry Bradshaw, Christy O’Connr Snr and Sam Carlisle, the Omagh club champion at the time,” added Ian.
“It was the most exciting game I ever had and was also one of the most maturing experiences of my life, to be in their company and see how they played.
“I realised then there was no point in turning professional.
“Christy was round in something like 66, Bradshaw was 68 and I might have scored a moderate 72.
“These were icons of the game and so, I continued with my education and decided to stick with the law.”Ian added; “a lot of amateurs played exhibition matches then because there really was not much of gap between us in those days.
“It’s one of the things I find disappointing about modern amateur golf. I was at last month’s Amateur Championship and there was hardly a face to be seen among the competitors over 24-years of age.
“I played in two or three Amateur Championships and almost 75 per cent of the field would have been aged 25 years and over. In many ways it’s disappointing to see so many good amateurs turning professional so young.”