BACK TO BLACK FOR COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP
There will be quite a number of people and, in particular, many from the world of politics and sport, wishing that last week had turned out a little differently. That does not diminish in any way the bitterness felt by some of those participating in this year's Western Isles County Championship, hosted by Harris Golf Club. Admittedly, at the time of entering, the weather forecast for the whole day looked dire; as Saturday came closer, the heavy rain was predicted to clear as the day progressed.
Although difficult to explain rationally, going to Harris for the morning sounds much less like a day out than going to Harris for the afternoon. The latter always arouses suspicion that the afternoon may also include the evening and, if the hospitality has been especially good, even the whole night. For that reason, Norrie "Tomsh" Macdonald and I decided on a morning start for our tilt at the County Championship. The light grey skies of Stornoway soon turned darker and, by the time we left the mist-shrouded Clisham behind, a strong south-easterly wind was added to the heavy black clouds and unrelenting rain.
The golf course at Scarista endured a very difficult winter and spring; the Atlantic Ocean did its best to swamp the fairways and greens with sand, while rabbits attempted to eat what was left of the course. Volunteers played their part in repairing the ground but the work put in by the local greenkeeper, James Gunn, has been astonishing. The fairways have been restored and the previously badly damaged greens are now recovering. Unfortunately, James cannot control the elements. The constant rain and biting wind decimated the field to such an extent that the only competitors to complete their rounds in the morning were Norrie and I.
There were good reasons for that. Norrie was playing exceptionally well and I like to get my money's worth. When we stopped at the halfway point to request fresh scorecards to replace the pulped paper in our pockets, Norrie was a mere two over par. It proved impossible to maintain the momentum in the deluge and, although he finished with a creditable nett 67, one under par, Norrie will feel that this was a wonderful opportunity that slipped away.
The feeling of what might have been was exacerbated on the drive north, as the rain eased and skies cleared. By the time we reached Stornoway, the wind had relented and the clouds gave way to bright sunshine. Our thoughts turned to the likes of Cal Robertson and defending County Champion David Black, now well into their rounds. It was those two who wrestled for the prize of the Silver Quaich, the eventual outcome being that David retained his title by the narrowest of margins, a better inward half. Congratulations to them both, to all who participated and to Harris Golf Club, once again impeccable hosts for the Championship.
The Greenkeepers' Benefit competition in Stornoway was played out in similar weather conditions. For Marten James, rain, hail and howling wind are all part and parcel of the game and, despite playing in the worst that nature threw up over the weekend, Marten emerged victorious. A birdie on the Ard Choille helped Marten to a one over par total after six holes and, despite a mini crisis before the halfway mark, he played an excellent inward half to post nett 65. It is not the first time that Marten has set the early pace this year but, last weekend, no one could overtake him.
Angus Innes made a valiant attempt but, despite a strong finish of level par over the last seven holes, he came up just short, his nett 65 beaten by Marten's better inward half. Graham Morrison, Lewis Mackenzie and Donald DJ Macleod all recorded nett 66, with DJ posting a gross 70, the best of the day.
The midweek qualifying round for the Centenary Medal was won by the in-form Stuart Campbell. Back-to-back birdies on the Short and Whins and a third on the Caberfeidh helped Stuart seal the win with 41 stableford points. Stuart edged out Kenny John Macleod, on the same points total, by virtue of a stronger finish. Another Kenny Macleod, this time of the Wang clan, took third place with 40 points.
David Black, "languishing" in fourth spot on 39 points, made a little bit of history as his exact handicap allowance swung beyond absolute zero to -0.1. He may not be finished yet.