Unless they have qualified for a U.S. Women’s Open, most of the players on the USA Curtis Cup Team have not competed in front of large galleries. At least not the kind they experienced on Friday when the 39th Match commenced at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club.
An estimated 4,000 spectators attended the opening two sessions of foursomes and four-ball matches, and many more are expected over the weekend for the final two days of the biennial competition.
“The crowd numbers [on Friday] exceeded my expectations,” said Susan Simpson, the director of golf for the Ladies’ Golf Union, which conducts the competition in Great Britain and Ireland. “There were over 1,000 cars in the public car park. There were a bunch of coach loads that came in. A lot of the local golf clubs have organized bus parties.”
The American players were impressed by the support. All of the players have family and friends who made the trek across the Atlantic Ocean, but they were surprised by the number of spectators out rooting for the home side.
“There were so many people here,” said University of Georgia rising sophomore Bailey Tardy, who along with partner Monica Vaughn won a pair of matches. “It was six deep on almost every green. It can be a little scary, but it’s fun to see everyone out here.”
Among those watching the action on Saturday were 2014 European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, of Ireland, and 2010 GB&I Curtis Cup competitor Danielle McVeigh, who has since regained her amateur status and works in Dublin. Also on property this week was three-time GB&I Walker Cup captain Nigel Edwards, of Wales, who now serves as the director of coaching for the English Golf Union.
The Curtis Cup is being staged in Ireland for only the second time, the other coming at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club in 1996. Five years ago, Killeen Golf Resort hosted a highly successful Solheim Cup, and with GB&I winning the 2012 Curtis Cup at The Nairn Golf Club in Scotland four years ago, there was excitement surrounding the competition.
As the final Saturday foursomes match walked up 18 on Saturday, a massive crowd followed. It resembled the Open Championship, conducted by The R&A, on Sunday when fans encircled the last group in the fairway. The GB&I fans went wild when Meghan MacLaren, of England, holed a 12-foot par putt to clinch a 1-up win over Sierra Brooks and Andrea Lee. She was playing with Maria Dunne, a 32-year-old driving range customer service manager who hails from Skerries, 45 minutes north of Dun Laoghaire.
“It’s great,” said Dunne, who has more than 200 supporters in her gallery this week, from members at Skerries Golf Club to family and friends. “It’s brilliant. I embrace it. I am absolutely loving it. It’s really encouraging. It’s not distracting at all.”
Added MacLaren: “There was one hole where we were walking from the green to the tee and there was such a massive crowd that we couldn’t even get through. It’s like you see on TV.”
Simpson said Ireland did a tremendous job promoting the Match through emails and other mailings. Ladies golf clubs also joined in by conducting golf competitions, with the winners getting the opportunity to play the championship course the Monday after the Curtis Cup.
“It seems to have worked,” said Simpson.
And Simpson believes there’s a good chance Dun Laoghaire will shatter the record of 12,000 spectators at Nairn. On Friday, club organizers were working on finding an auxiliary public parking lot. Simpson also had a special meeting with the marshals in anticipation of more people on the golf course.
“One local club is bringing 10 coach loads [on Saturday],” said Simpson. “So we’ve got quite a lot of people kicking about. Hopefully there will be 6,000 to 7,000 spectators. Everybody I’ve been speaking to said we won’t have any trouble breaking [the spectator record].”
Simpson said Dun Laoghaire couldn’t have been a better venue to stage the Match. From the course condition to the membership to the facilities, everything, she said, has been first class.
“Just look at it,” she said. “Great setting, great clubhouse, the course is perfect. It’s perfection in itself.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.