It seems that the most hotly debated subject in Stornoway Golf Club over the past three weeks is not the course layout. Nor is it the prickly topic of slow play. Not even the thorny issue of how and to which opponent losing team members pay their obligatory pound has raised the temperature in the clubhouse. As Stewart Macdonald so aptly put it, “It is amazing what some members will do for a pound!” And he should know.
What is causing restlessness amongst members is the handicapping system for the Car Hire Hebrides Winter League. The problem is that, through the vagaries of the system, it is possible for some participants to have a similar or, indeed, higher handicap over twelve holes in the winter than they had over eighteen in the summer.
The fact is that the same handicapping system can produce similar results in any competition with a team, rather than an individual, handicap. The summer match-play Consolation Cup competition and various Texas Scramble events are examples close to home. No system is perfect and it is important to remember that the winter competition is intended to be fun. Admittedly, it is difficult to bear that in mind while standing over a provisional ball on the Gunsite tee after two hours of unremitting rain.
Regardless of the outcome of the debate, this current Winter League will be decided under the existing rules. In amongst all the hand-wringing and hot air, fifty-one teams will compete over the next five months. The fifty-first team to enter made all the headlines last weekend.
Colin Macritchie happens to be one of those golfers whose team handicap for the Winter League is identical to his individual handicap. He and partner Bryan Geddes underlined the point that, when a team of low handicap golfers is playing to its full potential, the handicapping system in place is largely irrelevant.
Colin and Bryan began with steady pars before picking up birdies on the Redan, Gunsite and Manor, reaching the turn in three under par. It was almost a carbon copy on the return leg, with further birdies on the Heather and Ranol before the final flourish of an eagle on the Caber/Foresters. Their stunning gross score of 43 would have won the weekend competition without the necessity for any controversial deduction of handicap.
Somewhat surprisingly, as he has played no competitive golf since July, it was Colin who provided all of the sub-par scoring. Those who are unhappy with the handicapping system will be relieved to note that, thanks to these exploits and a thoroughly deserved fifteen scoring points, Colin will now be playing off a team handicap of half of his individual entitlement.
By strange coincidence, or as is to be expected - depending on one’s view of the handicapping setup – the team in second place included Andy Macdonald, whose winter team handicap of 2 is exactly the same as his individual handicap. Andy and Arthur Macintosh added to their tally of two scoring points from a fortnight ago with twelve last Saturday, returning a nett 44.
A purple patch of birdies on four consecutive holes from the Memorial to the Castle gave Andy and Arthur a gross score of 46. Both the winning team and the runners up have given notice that even a substantial handicap cut in the coming weeks will do little to diminish their prospects of picking up points.
There were five teams locked on nett 45, collecting seven scoring points apiece. Three of those teams had also earned serious points on the opening day of competition.
Last year’s Winter League winners, Cal Robertson and Richard Galloway, once again posted a round of one under par. They had one birdie, on the Heather, in their opening six holes, and another on the Castle in their inward half. As on the opening day, there was only one bogey on their card; Cal and Richard are displaying ominous consistency in defence of their title.
Incidentally, Cal was playing off a team handicap that is – wait for it – exactly the same as his individual handicap. The use of the past tense is deliberate: Cal and Richard have now had a stroke deducted from their allowance, to afford the rest of the league an opportunity to play catch up.
David Black and Iain “Boozy” Macdonald also posted a score of one under par gross, adding to the five scoring points they picked up on the opening weekend. They competed in a steady downpour that made their scorecard almost indecipherable. There was probably a bogey somewhere and birdies on at least one of the par 5 holes and possibly “Boozy” scored on one of the holes. The rest is shrouded in mystery.
Peter Grant and Pat Aird were so determined to post a legible scorecard, despite the elements, that it looked as if it had been filled in in blood. After the disappointment of a double bogey on their first hole, they fought back with six successive pars and a steady finish to secure their first scoring points.
Willie Macaulay and Alasdair Maclean missed the opening weekend but took little time to show their intentions with an excellent round of two over par gross. After commencing the round with two bogeys, a birdie on the Memorial was the highlight of their first half, while a level par inward half confirmed that this pairing will provide a threat if they can play regularly.
The final pairing sharing third place was Graham Morrison and Angus Mackay. If there is an argument in favour of leaving handicap settings exactly as they are, this must be the clincher. A hypothetical change in allowances, to ensure that no competitor has the benefit of a team handicap that is more than two thirds of his individual handicap, would have resulted in Graham and Angus posting the leading score last weekend. There is a lack of etiquette in a golfer who plays rarely and another who has only recently taken up the game suddenly taking the Winter League by the scruff of the neck. They will have to wait.
Despite the afternoon rain, the threshold for scoring points last weekend was four under par and that is likely to remain the target over the next month.