When a golf ball rolling across a putting green sounds exactly as it does when rolling along a pavement, winter has well and truly arrived. The hard frost covering Stornoway golf course last weekend coupled with daytime temperatures struggling to rise above zero were proof enough that the Car Hire Hebrides Winter League is entering testing times.
The par of the present course may be five strokes less than in the previous setup but scores returned did not reflect that difference. Only seven teams posted nett scores better than par. However, there were few complaints on a day when competitors had glorious views to compensate for disappointment on the course. At times, with only a gentle breeze blowing from the north east, the quiet of the course would have been serene, had it not been for the regular throaty roar of a chainsaw engine at the Willowglen Road sawmill.
For the first time since this campaign commenced, a nett score of level par was enough to earn scoring points – one scoring point, actually. That miserly reward was made worse by the fact that the three teams posting one shot less earned six scoring points each.
Having manoeuvred themselves into a threatening position a month ago, Dave Gilmour and Alistair Henderson ended a barren three weeks to force their way into the top twenty of the overall competition. James Maciver and Stuart Campbell are in an identical situation and both pairings will be hoping that last weekend is the springboard for a sustained challenge.
James and Stuart also have something in common with the final team tied on nett 44. Like them, Murdo and Kenny Macleod are playing in their first Winter League together and continued their recent good form in collecting scoring points for the second successive week.
Two teams shared third place on nett 43, picking up nine scoring points apiece. In fact, with a handicap of zero, Bryan Geddes and Colin Macritchie returned gross 43 in another excellent display that was once again the lowest round of the day. Their two birdies were on the Ard Choille and Memorial and the rest of their scorecard was simply a list of pars.
There was sympathy for John Cunningham of competition sponsors Car Hire Hebrides a few weeks ago when a superb round of four under par was only good enough for a solitary scoring point. Last weekend, he and partner Scott Maciver completed another commendable round to move into the top twenty on the league leaderboard. That raises the potentially prickly issue of whether or not it is bad etiquette for a sponsor to win his own competition. Time will tell if John and Scott maintain their challenge but it is probably the consensus amongst the remaining Winter League participants that it is not good form for the sponsor to walk off with the main prize.
Incidentally, there is an extensive list of those for whom winning the Winter League would display poor etiquette. The list includes the Club Captain and Vice-Captain, greenkeeping staff, anyone associated with match and handicap responsibilities, bar staff, people with electric trolleys and, amongst others, anyone who had anything to do with the hole on the Ranol green being cut two feet from the start of the unofficial winter bobsleigh run.
Whilst on the subject of poor etiquette, it is worth repeating the advice to golfers to avoid unnecessary trampling of parts of the course that are susceptible to winter damage. Those commencing rounds at the Ard Choille should use the road and path to the tee rather than taking a short cut across the course. Similarly, those walking from the Manor green to the Miller tee should take the sign-posted route around the back of the Foresters green rather than crossing the fairway. It is simply good course management and may also be acceptable as an excuse for slow play, thus saving precious points.
Two teams shared first place last Saturday on nett 42 and each collected fourteen scoring points. Past winners Norrie “Tomsh” Macdonald and Murdo Maclennan picked up a birdie on the Cup to reach the turn one under par. A steady inward half ensured that they took their tally of points for the past two weeks to twenty four and are now serious contenders once again.
There is one pairing that has difficulty in playing the course under normal conditions but appears to excel when putting on ice becomes a lottery and hard frost makes controlling approach shots to the green almost impossible. It was no surprise, therefore, to find John “Shillegan” Gillies and John R Gillies, Stornoway’s own Arctic Monkeys, sitting at the top of the heap last Saturday. Like Norrie and Murdo, the Gillies twins did their hard work on the opening half; two over par at the turn with a handicap approaching double figures is a useful recipe for success. They have now pushed their way into the top ten in the league but it may be that another icy blast will be required before they can climb any higher.
In the overall competition, Bryan Geddes and Colin Macritchie have now been rewarded for their consistency and have established a three point lead on 50 points. David Gray and Gordon Kennedy slip into second spot, ahead of Kevin Macrae and Griddy Macleod on 42 points. Alasdair Maclean and Willie Macaulay are a point behind and Andy Macdonald and Arthur Macintosh complete the top five on 39 points.