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Minnesota hosts Cider Cup: Irish golfers enjoy experience playing area courses

The European golf squad has won three straight Ryder Cup titles going into their match against the United States this week at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska.

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Members of the Northern Ireland golf team recently competed in the Cider Cup against a group of American golfers. This photo was taken before a round played at The Pines course at Grand View Resort. Submitted photo

The European golf squad has won three straight Ryder Cup titles going into their match against the United States this week at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska.

A similar, but smaller, version of a cross-Atlantic golf competition called the Cider Cup was played earlier this month in Minnesota, including rounds at four area courses. And in the end, a squad representing players from Northern Ireland also captured their third straight title against a team of American golfers, who are mostly of retirement age with Minnesota connections.

"Our Cider Cup was an even, fantastic match played in a friendly atmosphere," said Irish golfer Jimmy Kelly. "We did retain the title, and now we have to haul (the trophy) back to Ireland. It was fun and our friendships continue to mature."

It's a serious competition, but building friendships between players from the two countries is the biggest reward, according to Don Smith, one of the tournament founders and a non-playing captain for the Americans.

"This was the eighth iteration of the Cider Cup," Smith said. "We play every other year, and rotate between the two countries. But it's not just the golf, it's the marvelous friendships. Tens of thousands of Americans go to Ireland each year to golf, but few get the Cider Cup experience since we stay at each others' homes."

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This year's competition on Minnesota courses, which took place between Sept. 7-17, started with rounds at Monticello Country Club, USA Edinburgh Golf Club and Stillwater Country Club before heading north to Golden Eagle Golf Club in Fifty Lakes, The Pines and Preserve of Grand View Resort and The Classic at Madden's. The event concluded at Elk River Country Club and North Oaks Country Club.

"Playing at Madden's was special because they were rained out in 2004, and didn't get to play the Classic," Smith said of the Cider Cup's earlier trip to the lakes area. "When we talked about ideas (for this year's courses), they fondly remember the Brainerd area. They wanted another chance to play The Classic."
The CIder Cup round (Sept. 14) at the Classic was extra special for one Irish golfer as James Smyth carded a hole-in-one using an 8-iron on the 132-yard No. 2 hole.

For Kelly and fellow Irish golfer, Philip Gregg, the entire trip was memorable.

"The greens were a little faster than what we have experienced (in Ireland)," Kelly said, "but I liked the courses we played."

Gregg agreed, adding: "Brainerd was quite simply wonderful. The scenic, challenging golf courses were all in superb condition. We could not recommend the (lakes area) venue highly enough."

There's a chance the Cider Cup could return to the area some day, but for now the Americans can start thinking about traveling to Ireland in 2018.

Smith's connection with the Irish started about 35 years ago when his family was living in Monticello and hosted a 10-year-old from Belfast through the Children's Program of Northern Ireland, which helped youth escape a troubled situation in their country at that time. Smith became friends with former Irish principal Brian Collins, who was serving on the CPNI committee.

Smith helped organize a golfing event between his friends and Collins, and in 2002 the Cider Cup was formed.

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"I knew a half-dozen golfers (around Monticello), plus we had a couple guys who came from Elk River," Smith recalled of the tournament's start. "It was an opportunity (for the American golfers) to get away for 10 days and golf in Ireland. Some golfers have dropped out over the years, but we've also had seven or eight (Irish) golfers who have never missed."
Gregg is one of the regulars for the Irish team.

"We're thrilled to retain the cup in a tight competition," he said, "but more importantly is the camaraderie. The friendships and ethos of the Cider Cup group were enhanced to new levels."

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