After six long months, through every possible combination of weather conditions, the Winter League enters its final hours this weekend. There are still twelve teams with a realistic chance of winning and a mere five points separate the top six teams. It appears that the destination of the CarHire Hebrides Trophy may not be decided until the last putt drops this Saturday. Well, perhaps not quite: the last group out this weekend includes the Gillies twins and Pat Aird and if the whole competition hinges on their final putts, the rest of the field should take cover from flying pigs.
Given that seven weekends of competition were lost because of adverse weather, it should not be taken for granted that the course will be open this weekend. Last Saturday, Graeme Tait made a valiant effort to show that summer had arrived by playing in a pair of shorts. He might have been more convincing had it not been for the bluish colour of his knees.
The teams in pole position on 84 points are David Black and Euan Morrison, with a handicap of +1, and Sharath Shetty and Andrew Sim, whose handicap is only one stroke less painful. Two points behind are Richard Galloway and Cal Robertson.
Cal and Richard are the team with the momentum of late, having picked up 36 points this month, but their handicap has now reached +2, which gives them a mountain to climb this weekend. Their gross 46 was also nett 46, courtesy of a zero handicap, and was good enough for seven scoring points last Saturday. A similar score on the final day might yet bring them the points they would need to overtake the favourites.
Two teams share fourth position on 80 points. Ken Galloway and John Macleod have played a great deal of solo golf this winter and they both contrived to be absent last Saturday. Consequently, they slipped one place in the league table. Nevertheless, amassing 80 points when playing as a pair on comparatively few occasions will give impetus to the belief that they can bridge the gap this weekend.
Murdie Macdonald and Ian Macritchie will look back to their performance of a fortnight ago for inspiration. A relatively healthy handicap of 2 means that any score of par or below will probably earn them points. Whether or not that will be sufficient is another issue but even a thimbleful of Murdie’s famous tonic makes almost anything possible.
Al and Allan Macleod are one point behind in sixth place, while in seventh position are Sandy Bruce and Eddie Mackenzie on 77 points. Both teams have the ability to score well but will probably require serious scoring points to cause an upset at this stage.
The lowest gross score last weekend was 46, with two teams returning that total. Colin Macritchie and Bryan Geddes picked up four birdies in their round but a plus handicap meant they finished on nett 47. If they feel that handicap is unfair then, to add insult to injury, they play off +2 for their final outing.
Richard Galloway and Cal Robertson barged their way into contention for the overall title with their gross (and nett) 46, which was an impressive combination of nine pars and three birdies.
Iain Morrison and Andrew Reeves have made a late surge in the past fortnight and their nett 44 came close to being the best score of the day. A birdie on the Gunsite recovered ground lost by bogeys on each of their three opening holes. Following that immediately with a par and then a birdie on the Manor brought respectability to their first half. A double bogey on the Dardanelles proved to be the only blot on their card on the inward half.
Andrew and Iain had to settle for a share of second place with Donald Mackenzie and Peter Hobson. Donald and Peter are in their debut season of Winter League and the 11 scoring points they collected was a well-deserved reward for the determination shown after a miserable triple bogey start at the Castle. Pars on the two of the most difficult holes on the course, the Dardanelles and Cup/Foresters, restored some confidence and a birdie on the Ranol took them to the turn only three over par. A steady return leg, with the bonus of another birdie on the Short, gave them their best result of the winter competition.
The winning total was nett 42, posted by Donald John Smith and Dave Macleod. With the weight of caring for the island’s children lifted from their shoulders less than twenty four hours earlier, DJ and Dave played a near perfect round of ten pars and two birdies. If their dedication to the teaching profession was not so great, who knows what damage they might do to the course during the school term. Instead, the holiday season was the catalyst for a relaxed approach that was rewarded on this occasion by 15 points. Their birdies, on the Ranol and Gunsite, proved to be the difference between their score and that of their nearest challengers.
The prizegiving this Saturday brings down the curtain on another Winter League saga. Entry to summer competitions is already available online and the course moves to its 18 hole format next week. Golf in Stornoway moves rapidly from a team sport to individual completion. From now on, you are well and truly on your own.