The course may still be green and the grass still growing but summer is well and truly over. The usual suspects signal the approach of winter: heavy showers, gales, sadistic greenkeeping staff who have manufactured a 12 hole format that is almost the same length as the 18 hole course, and over 50 teams entered for the CarHire Hebrides Winter League.
Some teams are clearly more enthusiastic than others. So keen to participate are Charlie Maclean and Eric Anderson that they entered the competition twice and then, unfortunately, missed the opening round.
For the majority of competitors, the crushing disappointment of another summer season passing with little sign of improvement in golfing prowess has been forgotten. Their natural pessimism of has quickly been overtaken by that equally reprehensible approach to the game: unbridled, blind, optimism.
The golfer looks at the winter course layout, seeing at least half a dozen holes where he will comfortably make par. Greens that he was unable to reach in three shots, such as the Gunsite, he now imagines are opportunities for eagle putts. With the benefit of mild amnesia, some improbable birdies are imagined on hybrid holes such as the Long Caberfeidh Foresters: he generally wasted up to twelve strokes on those two holes, but now he thinks that a 4 is a distinct possibility.
On his own, he could do serious damage but, in the Winter League format, there is the bonus of an equally hopeful partner to add to the birdie collection. Four hours later, the golfer is hacking the ball out from behind a tree somewhere close to the Cup green – which does not feature in this course layout – while his partner, who is unable to look him in the eye and has not spoken to him since that double bogey on the Gunsite, is carrying out some minor ploughing work on the Manor fairway. The joy of Winter League can be short-lived.
Some partnerships take a little longer than others to begin unravelling. The names of those who were jostling for a place on the winners’ podium last April are amongst the low scoring teams at the start of this campaign. With a par of 50, the course is set up for the longer hitters and low handicap golfers. However, a look at handicap allowances gives some hope for everyone involved.
The first round of the competition was played in high winds and, particularly in the afternoon, prolonged showers. The conditions meant that, for many teams, disaster was always an imminent possibility. Pat Aird and Peter Grant, with the benefit of a handicap of 9, looked to be on a score when they reached the turn in only two over par but one disappointing hole – a ten on the Dardanelles – deprived them of certain scoring points.
Meanwhile, Norman Morrison managed what must be close to a unique golfing feat with a birdie on the Ranol: nothing particularly unusual in that perhaps except that in this case the club used by Norman for all three strokes was a driver.
Despite the many tales of woe, teams had to return at least three under par to gain scoring points. Last year’s joint winners, Cal Robertson and Richard Galloway, picked up 2 scoring points with nett 47, a total matched by Murdie Macdonald and Iain Macritchie.
John Gillies and John R Gillies collected 4 scoring points on nett 46, where they were joined by Norman L Macdonald and Iain Macleod. Last year, Sharath Shetty and Andrew Sim led the competition for most of the winter before being caught on the home straight. The absence of Andrew Sim had much to do with that. A similar problem held back John Macleod and Ken Galloway. This year, Sharath Shetty has teamed up with Ken Galloway and their nett 46 last weekend gave every indication that they will be contenders next Spring.
Peter Dickie and Stewart Macdonald returned nett 45 for 7 scoring points and an identical total was posted by Peter and Murdo O’Brien.
David “Kiwi” Macleod and Stephen Moar make up a formidable pairing and, with more regular appearances than last winter, could be amongst the favourites to top the League. A double bogey on the opening hole made their gross 49 an unlikely prospect but birdies on the Dardanelles, Memorial and Long Caber/Foresters took them to the turn one under par. A solid level par inward half helped them to nett 44 and a share of second place.
Magnus and Murdo Johnson have a tremendous record in Winter League and are consummate competitors. They threw down the gauntlet on the first day of this year’s competition with a gross and nett total to match that posted by Kiwi and Stephen. Five consecutive pars gave them a solid start and a birdie on the Manor had them one under par at the halfway point. Another four pars were followed by the only stain on their card, a bogey on the Redan. A fine birdie on the final hole secured their first 10 scoring points of the campaign.
The third team on nett 44 was Allan and Alastair Macleod, another combination that is sure to be around when the prizes are awarded next April. Their gross 47 was built on the opening six holes, with consecutive birdies on the Gunsite, Short and Manor taking them to the turn three under par. Like many other pairings, the second half was all about consolidation and was completed in level par.
As with the Johnsons, the Macleods had their only bogey on the Redan. Perhaps the Norman Morrison method of using his driver for the approach to the green may have been more profitable than fiddling about with wedges. Anyway, a birdie on the final hole secured a share of the runner up position.
The winners by two clear strokes were Bryan Geddes and Colin Macritchie. Launching the ball 300 yards is a distinct advantage on a relatively long course and this pairing has that ability. With the added bonus of wind assistance to offset a meagre handicap of 2, the only surprise on their card was that only one of the par 5 holes was birdied. However, that was more than compensated for on the remaining nine holes. They reached the turn in three under par, courtesy of birdies on the Castle, Memorial and Redan.
It was a similar story on the inward half, with birdies on the Gunsite, Short and Manor for a superb gross total of 44 and 15 scoring points. Even accounting for a reduction in handicap to 1, there is no doubt that Bryan and Colin could repeat their weekend exploits and be in contention for top spot again this weekend. The rest of the field has been given notice.