Two years ago this week, the team representing the Western Isles in golf at the Natwest Island Games in Aland returned home. The team finished in the top ten and Kevin Macrae had the distinction of being the islands’ top individual player, securing an impressive twenty second place in the individual competition.
Last weekend, the team returned from this year’s Games in the Isle of Wight. Remarkably, the team finished in the top ten again and Kevin Macrae also had the distinction of being the islands’ top individual player, securing an impressive twenty second place in the individual competition – again.
In Stornoway, there was a debate on the delicate matter of when a score becomes unacceptable. Generally, congratulations are in order for any round under par. A nett 63 will engender admiration but if the score goes much below that level, the congratulations are often muted and replaced by grumbling about handicap entitlement. Both competitions last week kept the debate alive and well.
The Summer Cup sounds like a trophy that should be competed for against a backdrop of sunshine and warmth. That was indeed the case last Wednesday as the warmth of a calm, clear afternoon continued into a long, balmy evening. The conditions suggested that low scoring was a distinct possibility and a third of the field broke par, a very unusual occurrence this year. There were some outstanding performances.
Dave Gilmour produced his best golf for some time. A sprinkling of birdies and a level par inward half contributed to his nett 63. That total was matched by Murdo O’Brien, with a gross 68 and a two under par back nine. Another basking in the glow of low scoring on nett 63 was Marten James, whose steady round was a combination of one birdie, seven pars and ten bogeys.
And then there was John “Shillegan” Gillies. Not content with a round that would draw plaudits, John went just that little bit too far. Birdies on the Manor, Gunsite and Caberfeidh all brought into question his handicap of 22. His nett 61 was clearly the best of the day and John is the recipient of the Summer Cup. John was not the only target for barbed comments about his banditry; his namesake, John R Gillies, had to endure misplaced complaints without having the consolation of having a score to be proud of.
The weekend saw similar weather conditions and a similar outcome on the course. Once again, participants took advantage of the conditions, with no less than fifteen golfers coming in under par. Four players jockeyed for third position on nett 65.
John “Shillegan” Gillies had clearly learned his lesson in midweek and, diplomatically, managed to slot in couple of triple bogeys to offset some more impressive golf. His round was made even more respectable by the fact that he was playing off a handicap of two strokes less than in midweek.
Peter Dickie, with an eagle on the Caberfeidh, Cal Robertson, with birdies on the Ranol and Ditch, and Donald John Smith, with a birdie on the Miller, also posted nett 65.
Sharath Shetty played some very steady golf, including birdies on the Manor and Short, for a one over par total at the halfway stage. A further birdie on the Caberfeidh gave him a nett total on 62, perilously close to scoring that goes beyond admiration. In the event, he escaped criticism because his score was only good enough for runner up spot.
On almost any other day, Sharath would have won the Jackson Medal qualifying competition, but Euan Morrison had other ideas. Despite opening with a horrific nine on his first hole, Euan steadied things with a run of pars, but was still eight over par at the turn. Bearing in mind his handicap of 19, Euan had managed to manufacture a decent score after his opening disaster. He should have been content with that. Compliments would have been paid on his resilience, concentration and determination. Instead, he decided to go over the edge.
A birdie on the Ditch meant that Euan was level par for the back nine with only three holes to play and, despite two bogeys, his remarkable round ended on nett 59. The margin of victory means that Euan will be playing off a handicap of 16 when he next summons up the courage to visit the clubhouse.
This weekend sees the start of the highlight of the Stornoway golfing calendar. Golf Week commences with the two qualifying rounds of the Western Isles Amateur Open Championship, continues with competitions throughout the week and ends next Saturday with the One Day Open competition. When combined with the Hebridean Celtic Festival, it is an energy sapping marathon that requires golfers to be in peak physical condition. A cursory glance at past winners of scratch and handicap events underlines the importance of that elusive blend of athleticism and skill needed to achieve success in Golf Week.