On an idyllic day more reminiscent of late Spring, the Car Hire Hebrides Winter League commenced last Saturday. There was, however, plenty evidence of the approach of winter, most notably in the appearance of a 12 hole course that appears to be almost the same length as the full 18 holes. With only one par 3 and three par 5 holes, there is ample opportunity for low scoring and, equally, for the kind of scores more appropriate to the 18 hole format.
Such a challenging set up means that any one of half a dozen holes can be ruinous for many of the fifty teams participating in the Winter League. The opening day had a plethora of examples of promising scorecards blighted by a triple or quadruple bogey. One minute a team can be coasting comfortably and then, inexplicably, the wheels come off. For one individual, putting in a solo performance in the absence of his playing partner, that proved to be the case literally. The group playing ahead of Mick Butterworth first noticed him when he chipped in for an excellent birdie on the Glen.
A few holes later, standing on the Whins tee, they spotted a wheel rolling down the path towards them. Moments later, Mick stumbled into view, struggling manfully to maintain control of his trolley which, for all intents and purposes, had taken on the appearance of a bicycle with a golf bag attached. Mick did not feature in the scoring points but, as some consolation, the general consensus was that he had done enough to pass a cycling proficiency test.
There were others who had more success in beginning the Winter League without the help of a playing partner. Adam Longdon had a potentially demoralising triple bogey on his second hole but he recovered to such an extent that these were the only shots dropped in his first six holes. A solid inward half, culminating in a birdie on his final hole, the hybrid Caber/Foresters, gave him a total of nett 45 and a share of second place.
Ken Galloway was another lone golfer sharing second place, opening his campaign by collecting nine scoring points without the assistance of his new partner, George Mould. Ken bogeyed his first hole, but a string of pars and a birdie on the Manor ensured he reached the halfway point in level par. A steady inward half of two bogeys and four pars for a gross total of 52 is an ominous sign for other teams.
The defending champions, Cal Robertson and Richard Galloway, showed every sign that it will be difficult to prise the Winter League Trophy from their grasp this year. A bogey on the Dardanelles was the only blip in an otherwise level par opening half. The return leg was completed in two under par, courtesy of birdies on the Heather and Caber/Foresters. Their gross 49 was the lowest total of the day, matched by Andy Macdonald and Arthur Macintosh; with a crippling handicap of only two strokes, Andy and Arthur will have to be returning gross scores well under par to score serious points during the early rounds of the Winter League.
The final pairing sharing second place was Kenny John Macleod and John A Macdonald. They were already three over par after their first two holes but steadying the ship with four solid pars ensured that they remained only three over par at the turn. A birdie on the Miller set up a good inward half for nett 45.
The weekend winners by two clear shots were Gordon Kennedy and David Gray. The damage caused by a double bogey on the Glen – their second hole – was partially repaired by a birdie on the Caber/Foresters but it was the inward half that took them to victory. A rare birdie on the Dardanelles and consecutive birdies on the Gunsite and Whins gave them a gross total of 51, one of the lowest of the day. The benefit of a starting handicap of eight transformed their total into nett 43 and an opening credit of fifteen scoring points for Gordon and David.
What has become painfully obvious already is that for the next few weeks, barring shocking weather conditions, scoring points will only be earned by teams returning scorecards well under par. The threshold for scoring points last weekend was three under par and that is likely to be the benchmark until the first course change.
One other issue that emerged from the opening weekend of Winter League is slow play. Obviously, no names will be mentioned at this stage but culprits – those who cannot complete the course in less time than it takes the ferry to travel from Stornoway to Ullapool – have been given notice that appearance points will be docked from those teams that find it difficult to play each hole in under fifteen minutes. Teams that have built their Winter League reputation solely on appearance points will probably now be panicked into playing at jogging pace. Whilst a round of golf should never become a race, there is no doubt that slow play is one of the most frustrating aspect of the game; not only does it exasperate playing partners but it also causes unnecessary delay for everyone else on the course.
Some Winter League participants, such as former Club Captain Norrie “Tomsh” Macdonald, have suggested additional monetary fines for slow play. That is understandable for a taxi driver who cannot be in motion without a meter running but, for the moment, deduction of points is the preferred option. In the past, Norrie has proposed alternative punishments that involve major surgery. It is hoped that the pace of play will increase to avoid match and handicap officials having to take those proposals seriously, particularly when the loudness of his clothing makes listening to Norrie even more difficult.