It’s been an excellent 2012 for Scottish golfers. Paul Lawrie has enjoyed a career renaissance with two victories on the European Tour and six further top-10 finishes. He has climbed into the top-30 on the Official World Golf Ranking and has made the Ryder Cup team for the first time since 1999 – the year of his Open triumph.
Richie Ramsay has enjoyed a fine second half of the season and, with a win at the European Masters, has pocketed almost €1 million in 2012. Marc Warren and Stephen Gallacher have both had solid years while, on the Ladies European Tour, Carly Booth and Catriona Matthew have been winners.
Scotland’s amateur men won the Home Internationals for the first time since 2006 and 19-year-old Jack McDonald was a semi-finalist in the Amateur Championship.
And the success stories keep coming with news of a momentous victory for the Scots in the Association of Golf Writers’ (AGW) Home Internationals, contested this week at Close House in Northumberland.
For the first time since 2001, the Scottish have their hands on this prestigious and much coveted trophy. Relying on a blend of age and experience, the Scots team of Martin Dempster, Mike Aitken, Allan Herron, Nick Rodger, Bill Robertson and Fergus Bisset secured victory with a 2-1 win over Ireland in Tuesday’s final round.
The competition began at Close House on Monday with the opening games: England v Scotland and Wales v Ireland.
The matches were, as ever, played in the best possible spirit and all involved greatly enjoyed the course. It’s a relatively new track, opened for play just 18 months ago. But it has the feel of a far more established layout and is already earning a good reputation in the North East. Former World Number 1, Lee Westwood opened the course and is attached to Close House as their Tour Professional.
Set in the beautiful hill country surrounding Close House – a stunning 18th century mansion and now an opulent hotel – the course winds through mature trees and up towards the higher ground where there are superb views across the Tyne Valley.
There’s a fantastic selection of memorable and challenging holes. It may not be the longest layout at just over 6,800 yards, but it’s a true strategic test where placement rather than power is the key to success. The green complexes are testing to say the least and demand a deft touch: Not something AGW members are renowned for.
In the first match, the Scottish pairing of Robertson and Bisset secured a point with a narrow win over England’s Alan Hedley and Trevor Peake; Rodger and Herron were undone by a half-time pie and, despite being three-up at one point, were pegged back to lose out by 3 and 1. It was left to team captain Martin Dempster and the consistent Mike Aitken to bring the match home. They did their job well as they ran out winners over Jim Mossop and Martin Hardie. In the second match, Ireland defeated defending champions Wales.
On Monday evening, the players were entertained by Director of Golf, Russell Smith, in the clubhouse’s excellent restaurant: No. 19. Russell has moved to Close House from Gleneagles and is a fine addition to the hotel and golf club staff. After a wonderful meal, it was time to retire to the hotel and prepare for the challenge of 36-holes on day two.
Welsh songstress Katherine Jenkins performed in front of 5,000 people at Close House on Sunday but, unfortunately, was unable to stay for a second night to perform in front of the golf writers. Thankfully, members of both the Welsh and Irish teams have impressive voices and they did their level best to make up for the disappointment with a lengthy, late-night recital in the hotel bar.
At 8.30 in the morning, the mood was reserved as the players gathered for the second round matches. Whether it was nerves or the glass of Knob Creek bourbon at 2.30am, the start made by the Scottish lead off pair was a touch shaky.
Robertson and Bisset just couldn’t get it going against the Welsh duo of John Hopkins and Simon Curle. In the end, a 4&3 defeat was a fair result. It was a disappointing blow for Bisset who has never won a match against this renowned pairing. But, he consoled himself with a couple of pints of Moretti beer at lunchtime and these seemed to give him a far more positive outlook as he approached the afternoon game.
1-0 down, the Scots had to hope the final two matches would go their way. Allan Herron who, at 83, was the oldest man in the field, looked a good deal spritelier than a number of the younger competitors as he guided Nick Rodger through to a crucial win. Then, the anchor pairing of Dempster and Aitken secured the point for Scotland with a tremendous win over David Facey and Martin Johnson.
A win for Ireland over England set up a deciding match: the Irish against the Scots: The fate of this historic tournament rested on three final games.
Rejuvenated by a half-time break, Bisset and Robertson re-found their games to record the first point. Robertson, despite having a triple heart bypass earlier in the year, showed no signs of fatigue as he completed 54-holes in just over 24-hours. It was a great effort and one thoroughly appreciated by his playing partner.
Herron and Rodger began their final game a little slowly – five down at the turn. They battled back well, (a hole halved in conceded 8s was, perhaps, the highpoint,) but they were unable to overturn the deficit. That meant, once again, the match came down to the steady pairing of Martin Dempster and Mike Aitken. They saw the Scots home with authority to make sure the trophy would be heading north of the border for the first time in a decade.
The presentation dinner was held in the hotel’s sophisticated Argent d’Or restaurant, where the food was of exceptional quality. Everything about Close House is done with a sense of relaxed style. The writers commented on how friendly and helpful the staff members were, and how welcome and comfortable they were made to feel.
So comfortable in fact, that it was rather difficult to dislodge them from the hotel bar that night. An encore by the Welsh and Irish male voice choirs and an accompaniment from Langholm’s Nick Rodger on the spoons celebrated the general bonhomie amongst the team members. There’s clearly fabulous camaraderie in the event and, combined with some thoroughly excellent hosting by the ladies and gents of Close House, the tournament was a great success.