It has taken more than a month of competition, a handicap reduction of five strokes and a change of course to apply the brakes to the runaway juggernaut threatening to end the Car Hire Hebrides Winter League in record time.
It is true that Michael and David Black still hold a 12-point lead in the overall contest but the fact that they failed to pick up points last Saturday gives a glimmer of hope to the rest of the field.
The new course layout has no hybrid holes and, with a par of 44, its length is considerably shortened to take account of reduced daylight hours. However, it does present enough potential problems to warrant a change in tee times to ensure that no pairings go missing in the dark over the next six weeks.
In calm, mild conditions, the inaugural Saturday for the new course presented few challenges for some teams. In the not too distant past, Iain Moir and Pete Middleton were themselves runaway leaders in the early weeks of Winter League. This year, they have been experiencing the view from the other end of the league table. Last weekend changed that.
Birdies on two out of their three opening holes, the Manor and Miller, made an early impact and another before the halfway point, on the Ranol, set them up for a very low round. The inward half began in identical fashion with birdies on two of the first three holes, the Ard Choille and Heather. Par golf for the remainder of the round gave Iain and Pete the lowest gross round of the day (39) and the lowest nett round of 34. No one came close and Iain and Pete picked up 15 points, catapulting themselves into the top five in the overall competition.
In second place, Angus Innes and Lewis Mackenzie began their round with a bogey on the Castle. A birdie on the Ditch meant that they started the inward half on level par and another birdie, on the Short, helped Angus and Lewis finish under par gross their nett 38 earning them a dozen points.
Chris Kelso and John Macleod opened their account with three points a fortnight ago and improved on that last weekend. An eagle on the Heather transformed an average round into an excellent one and their nett 39, matched by three other pairings, earned them eight points.
Norrie ‘Tomsh’ Macdonald and Murdo Maclennan played the first seven holes in level par before a bogey on the Manor threatened to spoil their card. A birdie on the Ranol redressed the balance. The words “superb bogey” are used rarely but that was the outcome on their last hole, the Foresters. A couple of errant tee shots followed by a pair of mishit recovery shots seemed to have wrecked the round but Norrie chipped on to around 10 feet and sank the putt for nett 39.
Iain Morrison and Andrew Reeves are already making an impact on this Winter League and that continued into their latest round. A par on their opening hole was followed by successive birdies on the Glen and Heather, taking the pair to the halfway point two under par. Unfortunately, those two shots were lost with a double bogey on the Castle but Iain and Andrew steadied to finish on nett 39.
Sandy Bruce and Eddie Mackenzie had an uneventful – but nonetheless very welcome – outward half, playing every hole in regulation par. Back to back bogeys on the Miller and Ditch brought them back down to earth, but Sandy and Eddie held on for nett 39.
In the overall Winter League table, Sandy Bruce and Eddie Mackenzie are in sixth position on 21 points, one behind Angus Innes and Lewis Mackenzie. Donald ‘Sweeney’ Macsween and Willie Macaulay lie fourth on 27 points, one adrift of third-placed Iain Moir and Pete Middleton.
Iain Morrison and Andrew Reeves are in the runner-up spot with 32 points but the leaders, Michael and David Black, are still comfortably ahead on 44 points.
This year’s Ken MacDonald & Co sponsored TeXmas Scramble takes place on Christmas Eve. An entry sheet is on the noticeboard of the men’s locker room, with the opportunity to select starting and, probably more importantly, finishing holes. Unfortunately, Ken MacDonald himself will miss the event but that does allow his Winter League partner, Dave Rattray, to offer a highly attractive handicap (24) to another lucky team. Form an orderly queue, please.