An amphitheatre created around an arena no larger than the shortest hole on Stornoway golf course was the centre of attraction in global golf last weekend. The stands constructed around the 16th hole at Scottsdale, Arizona, hold over 20,000 spectators and the intimidating and inspiring atmosphere generated is the major attraction of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The overall attendance at the event was in excess of 700,000, making the Phoenix Open easily the highest attended event on the PGA Tour.
On our side of the Atlantic, the blue skies, warmth and infectious optimism of the Phoenix Open are a reminder that summer golf is not too far away. In less than eight weeks time, the course in Stornoway will be restored to its full complement of eighteen holes, the winter waterproofs and thermal fleeces will be packed away and short sleeved Climacool tops and, if you are a man named Pete or Marten, short trousers, will be unpacked for the coming months. Generally, the waterproofs and fleeces will be quickly retrieved about a week later and probably kept handy until mid-August.
All of that seemed a long way away last weekend, as participants in the latest round of the Car Hire Hebrides Winter League splashed their way around a sodden course under leaden skies. Despite the rain, the relatively calm conditions ensured that scores remained low and, on a newly lengthened course format with a par of 46, teams had to be at least two under par to earn points.
Of the pairings picking up a single point on two under par, David Gray and Gordon Kennedy merit a mention, if only because Gordon, frustrated after a poor shot, took a swing at his trolley with a club, dislodged a wheel and had to stand watching as it trundled off into the distance.
It is a stark warning to those bad workmen who make a habit of blaming their tools: sometimes the tools, frustrated at being unfairly blamed, simply make themselves scarce.
Robert Rankin had to play without a partner, with Liam McGeoghegan once again working offshore. That could have been the perfect excuse for Robert to remain in a dry, warm clubhouse for the afternoon. Instead, he put in a sterling performance and posted nett 42 for eight points, doubling his team’s total for the whole campaign.
One stroke better was another golfer playing alone. Fresh from being part of the winning team in the Ken MacDonald & Co TeXmas Scramble, Magnus Johnson continued his excellent form, picking up a birdie on the Avenue, his opening hole. A bogey on the Manor was the only slip of a solid outward half and Magnus reached the turn in level par. His card had a similar look on the inward half, with a bogey on the Miller being matched by a birdie on the Ranol. His total gave Magnus a share of second place and the reward of eleven points, which was more than enough to double the Johnson’s team total in the overall standings.
No one played a bigger role in last Saturday’s competition than Colin Gilmour. Usually tasked with processing scores and producing final results within minutes of the last competitors leaving the golf course, Colin had to step into the role of Starter last weekend in the absence of John Graham. Not content with that contribution, Colin and his partner, John M Morrison, put in a solid performance on the course to grab a share of the runner-up spot with their nett 41.
An average start saw them three over par at the halfway point but the inward half was markedly different, thanks to back to back birdies on the Memorial and Redan.
And for a little icing on the cake, John won a bottle of whisky in the weekly raffle (in rather controversial circumstances, as another “John” embarrassingly tried to claim the prize ahead of him).
Angus Macarthur and Neil Maciver have played sporadically this campaign and that has been reflected in their position propping up the league table. Last Saturday changed all of that, when an impressive six under par nett 40 brought maximum points and moved them inside the top thirty.
Three over par after two holes was hardly the best start but they settled down after a birdie on the Heather. A solid inward half and a second birdie, on the Redan, put daylight between them and their closest challengers.
And the Blacks still lead by eight points