There can be few more reassuring sights in the golfing world than John "Shillegan" Gillies in sole charge of the Western Isles Open scoreboard. Armed with a variety of coloured marker pens, Shillegan updated the scores of 100 competitors throughout the day. Late in the evening, when the last of the field returned to the clubhouse, Shillegan was able to make some semblance of sense of the myriad blue, red and black numbers on the board to determine who would qualify for the later stages of the Western Isles Open Championship.
For those who had become accustomed to playing the Stornoway course in the idyllic conditions of light winds and sunshine during the past three months, last weekend was a severe culture shock. The strengthening northerly wind played havoc with scoring, ending many a challenge before the first few holes were completed. The meticulous preparation, the hours of practice, the highly polished clubs and the attention to superstitious detail were no match for the brutal reality of a scorecard that looked like the golfer had mistakenly been noting the result of a tightly contested tennis match at Wimbledon. Only seventeen competitors managed to make par on the opening hole; the first No Return of the day came on the second hole. Seldom have the consoling words, "There's always next year", been uttered so early in the first round of a competition.
A combination of trying conditions and the tension of a championship event generally precludes low scoring: the leading score from the first round was shared by Colin Macritchie and Kevin Macrae on 72. One shot behind were two Macdonalds – Norrie “Onions” and Andy.
In the handicap section, Murdo Alex Macleod had a superb nett 64. Behind him, old heads like Norrie Mackenzie (nett 65), Neil Macleod (nett 65) and Robbie Macrae (nett 67) coped best with the conditions, as did younger, but rapidly aging, golfers such as Kenny Maclean (nett 65), John Fraser and Iain “Boozy” Macdonald (both nett 67).
The second round proved equally challenging, with Andy Macdonald posting an early 71, which included an eagle on the Heather, for an aggregate total of 144. That score was never bettered and Andy takes home the Isles Construction Trophy for the best aggregate scratch score. Kevin Macrae’s 73 took him into second qualifying place on 145, and a similar second round score by Norrie “Onions Macdonald guaranteed third spot on 146.
The remaining qualifiers were Colin Macritchie, Stewart Davidson, David Black, Murdo O’Brien and Alastair “Greens” Macleod.
In the handicap section, Murdo Alex Macleod displayed nerves of steel to post a second round nett 68 to be lead qualifier on 132 and, in doing so, won the Seaforth Trophy for the best two rounds under handicap. Neil Macleod remained composed enough to add a second round nett 69 for 134, winning the Stutt Shield for the best two rounds under handicap by a competitor over the age of 45. Norrie Mackenzie and Kenny Maclean followed on 135 and 136 respectively. The remaining qualifying places were filled by Norrie Maclean, Ken Galloway, Arthur Macintosh and Kenny Maciver.
Pat Aird, Iain Macleod, Chris Kelso and Norrie Munro will compete for the Senior Championship.
Mention must be made of the Macrae family. Robbie, who is almost as old as the Championship itself, added a solid second round of nett 70 to comfortably qualify in the handicap section. However, Castle Stuart and the Scottish Open – probably spectating but possibly playing ¬ are greater attractions to Robbie than the prospect of contesting a quarter final against Kenny Maclean. The younger Macrae, Malcolm, saw his chance of golfing glory disappear with the indignity of being five over par after his first hole in the morning round. Undeterred, he appeared for the second round to win the Drambuie Salver for the best single round of the day under handicap, a fantastic nett 63, and have the bonus of a two stroke cut in his handicap.
No visitors reached the knock out stage of the competition this year but there were, nevertheless, some impressive rounds. Don Mackenzie won the Whyte Trophy for the best aggregate scratch score by a visiting golfer, while Malcolm Morrison will collect the Hebridean Cup for the best two rounds under handicap by a visitor.
The final competition of the day was the Ladies Greensomes event. The winners, with a superb nett 67, were Ann Galbraith and Mary Joyce. Rita MacDonald and Sheena Moyes came a very close second on nett 68, just edging out Jan Maclennan and Ann Macrae, who posted the same score.
The Ladies Open qualifying on Monday saw another of the Macrae family, Anne, return an excellent nett 65 to lead the competition. Unfortunately, Anne and third-placed Christine Macleod, who shot a nett 68, are not available for the next stage of the Championship. The leading qualifier is Sheena Moyes, with nett 66. She is joined in the knock out stages by Rita Macdonald and Ann Galbraith, who both returned nett 70, and Jane Nicolson, on nett 72.
Following on so quickly after the traumatic experience of the Western Isles qualifying rounds, the Mens Fourball Better Ball event traditionally brings a touch of chaos to Golf Week. On paper, the format is fairly simple but, as DIY enthusiasts know to their cost, translating the instructions into the finished article is often impossible.
As if the format was not challenging enough, one participant added bagatelle to the mix, when his tee shot on the Short rebounded from the yellow marker tee, struck a bench, cannoned off a bin and finally smacked against a golf trolley, before coming to rest a couple of feet from where it had been hit about five seconds earlier. Jamie “Ricochet” Duncan then composed himself, put the ball on the green and just missed the putt for an outrageous par.
As in previous years, scoring was of a very high standard in the event. Three teams vied for runner up position on nett 60, with Murdo O’Brien and Bill Brannigan settling for fourth behind third placed Don Mackenzie and Garry Murray. Al “Greens” Macleod and John Sommerville took second spot but the clear winners on nett 58 were Marten James, with his partner John “Shillegan” Gillies proving that he can be as dangerous with golf clubs as he is with marker pens.