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Irish Town Pays Tribute to Stewart

NEWSDAY

The townsfolk came by the hundreds, by car and by foot. The elite of the golf world came by helicopter, dropping out of the blue-gray skies over Ballenskelligs Bay.

The members of the Waterville Golf Club and the residents of this delightful little town on the Ring of Kerry gathered last Wednesday for ceremonies that honored Payne Stewart, who died in a plane crash last October. Joining them were Stewart’s widow, Tracey, along with PGA Tour stars Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara, Lee Janzen, Rocco Mediate, Stuart Appleby and Robert Allenby.

A tear was shed, a life was celebrated.

Stewart had developed a relationship with Waterville in two visits before the British Opens in 1998 and 1999. He had been accompanied by Woods and O’Meara and other PGA Tour players. It was Stewart who charmed the town, poured the drinks in the pubs, led the sing-alongs, talked to the ordinary folk in a way that made them feel special and made him a part of the community.

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Last year, the members of Waterville Golf Club made him their honorary captain for the year 2000. But upon his death, they felt they had to do more.

“Payne meant so much to this club and this town,” said Jay Connolly, managing director of the Waterville Golf Club. “It was clear we had to do something beyond the ordinary to honor this man.”

Wednesday, the club unveiled a larger-than-life bronze statue of Stewart, created by noted Irish sculptor Jim Connolly. The club also dedicated its ninth hole, known as Prodigal, to Stewart with a plaque placed on the tee.

There were words from Jay Connolly and the club’s captains, Willie O’Driscoll and Dymntha Considine. There were words from Irish businessman Dermot Desmond, who along with another Irish businessman, J.P. McManus, commissioned the statue. Both men were friends of Stewart. There were words from Tracey Stewart, who remembered how her husband liked playing in the pubs as much as playing the course.

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Then there were words from Woods and O’Meara. Neither player attended the Payne Stewart ceremonies during the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June, saying they didn’t want to relive the death of their friend and neighbor. But at the behest of Stewart’s Irish friends, they helicoptered in from Limerick Wednesday and helicoptered out after the ceremony to K Club near Dublin, where they were to go fishing.

“He played with me in the first round of golf I played in Ireland (at Waterville),” Woods said. “Everybody who watched and participated in that day knows how much he enjoyed being here. . . . Now we know he’s looking down on us and taking care of us.”


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