To be honest, any weather conditions that allowed golf would have been acceptable. With the course closed most weekends for a month, there would have been few complaints if the CarHire Hebrides Winter League had been played in heavy rain and high wind. Instead, last Saturday proved to be a glorious day of sunshine and, with the course whipped dry by a week of wind, conditions underfoot were better than they have been for months.
The days of ludicrously low scoring have almost gone, as teams struggle to adjust to punishing handicap allowances. There are a few pairings still capable of making nonsense of par and nett scores of two under par or better were required to qualify for any points. The old adage that every single shot counts was never more apt: only two strokes separated twelfth position from third place but the two points for twelfth were eclipsed by nine for the joint fourth teams.
Two pairings posted nett 40 for those nine points apiece. George Macleod and George Mould dropped a shot on their second hole, the Manor, but recovered quickly with a birdie on the Ditch. Two bogeys followed, leaving them with seven handicap strokes remaining at the halfway stage. A bogey on the Ard Choile and a painful double bogey on the following hole threatened to ruin their round, but the two Georges played out the final four holes in level par.
They were tied with Graham Morrison and Stuart “Tyson” Campbell, who began their round in similar fashion. There was, however, no birdie on the Ditch but par on the Ranol and Foresters helped Graham and Stuart complete the outward half only one over par. A birdie on the Ard Choille was the highlight of a steady inward half and the reward of points that lift them well into the top twenty in the overall Winter League table.
Colin Macritchie and Innes Smith took second spot with nett 39, picking up twelve points, their first of the campaign. They are a formidable pairing and, if they can play more regularly over the remaining nine rounds of competition, Colin and Innes could well be in contention in early April.
A bogey on their opening hole was soon forgotten with a finish to the outward half of a birdie on the Gunsite, par on the Short and a second birdie on the Long Caberfeidh. The inward half also began with a bogey but was completed in level par, courtesy of a birdie on the Ditch.
Donnie Graham is making his Winter League debut with a more seasoned partner in Marten James. Donnie may have struggled in the early rounds but all that is behind him after he and partner Marten took first place and maximum points with a superb nett 37.
A solid start was undone by a double bogey on the Heather, but Donnie and Marten struck back immediately with a birdie on the Gunsite and reached the turn only one over par. With a double digit handicap, Donnie and Marten would have been feeling confident heading into the inward half. Of course, every golfer knows the script that follows the words “feeling confident” and Donnie and Marten were soon slapped in the face by that script. When they dropped a shot on the Castle and a further two on the next hole, the handicap allowance was fast evaporating. Fortunately, the pair dug in; a par on the Miller and a birdie on the Ditch calmed the jangling nerves. Donnie and Marten coolly completed the round for their first win in Winter League.
A victory in the only other Winter League round played this year lifted the father and son partnership of Donnie and DJ Macleod in to fifth position in the overall table. They share that position on 30 points with Iain Moir and Pete Middleton, and have now been joined by a third pairing, Sandy Bruce and Eddie Mackenzie, thanks to their weekend haul of half a dozen points.
Two teams share third spot. Iain Macleod and Norman L Macdonald are tied on 32 points with Andrew Reeves and Iain Morrison. Willie Macaulay and Donald Macsween retain the runner-up position on 36 points, behind Michael and David Black, who remain at the top of the table by some margin on 44 points.
This weekend sees a change of format with the Ken MacDonald & Co sponsored festive TeXmas Scramble. Christmas is long gone but better late than never.