The course may still be green and the grass still growing but the Annual Prizegiving last weekend was yet more evidence that the summer season is over.
With a pessimistic outlook nurtured by years of disappointment on the course, Stornoway golfers bypass any thoughts of autumn and head straight into winter. The fact that over eighty participants have taken advantage of mild conditions in each of the opening two weeks of the CarHire Hebrides sponsored Winter League indicates that the natural pessimism of some competitors has been quickly overtaken by that equally inordinate frame of mind: unbridled, and generally unfounded, optimism.
The golfer looks at the winter course layout, seeing at least half a dozen holes where he will comfortably make par. With the benefit of mild amnesia, some improbable birdies are imagined on shortened holes such as the Gunsite. On his own, he could do serious damage but, in the Winter League format, there is the bonus of a partner to add to the birdie collection. Before he has time to think rationally, the golfer is already out on the course watching his train of thought unravelling slowly and painfully over the course of around three hours.
For some partnerships, reality may take a little longer to strike than in two outings in October. These are the teams who have picked up decent points on both weekends. The new pairing of Graeme Tait and Martyn Macleod added three points to the eleven they collected a fortnight ago. Their nett 44 fell two short of what was required for serious points. A handful of teams returned nett 42 for seven points. Among those was the new partnership of James Hood and John Somerville, sitting comfortably alongside old hands such as Peter Dickie and Stewart Macdonald, Arthur and Duggie Macintosh and Cal Robertson and Richard Galloway. Cal and Richard were one of the few teams to break par with their gross score, notching birdies on the Ditch and Manor in an excellent back six holes. The dependable Huw Lloyd has the benefit of a partner who finished the summer season on a high note and Marten James helped towards their nett 42, which included birdies on the Memorial and the hybrid Caber/Foresters.
The composition of the top two teams last Saturday might suggest that family ties are the most important ingredients for Winter League success. The pairing of Magnus and Murdo Johnson has a long history of impressive winter performances and last weekend provided another example. A bogey on the Miller and a birdie on the Gunsite ensured a level par outward half. A further birdie came on the Ard Choille and closing out the round with five straight pars underlined the pair’s consistency and a nett 41 for twelve points.
The winning partnership was the father and son team of Peter and Murdo O’Brien, making their debut together this year. Like the Johnsons, they began their round with a bogey on the Miller, but that proved to be their last stumble of the day. Four consecutive 3s followed, including birdies on the Redan and Gunsite, resulting in a one under par opening six holes. The essential requirement for a successful team in Winter League format is that each partner can be relied on to step in when the other is in difficulty. When Murdo lost his tee shot on the Heather, Peter held his nerve and rolled in a ten foot putt to save par. There was even the bonus of another birdie provide by Murdo on the Caber/Foresters, a birdie that turned out to be enough to give them victory by one stroke with nett 40 and fifteen scoring points.
With the five scoring points picked up from the first week, Peter and Murdo now lead the overall competition. It is admittedly early days but, as Murdo well knows, once Peter is in a position he enjoys, he can be extremely difficult to shift. The rest of the field has been warned.