WELCOME TO ISLE OF MAN GOLF
This Saturday will be a very important date in island golf diaries as The Grant Thornton Isle of Man Mens Close Amateur Golf Championship swings into action at a seriously well-manicured Douglas Golf Club.
It is with great thanks from all concerned that Grant Thornton will be once more sponsoring both the men’s and ladies IOM Golf Championships. In a climate where other sports also rely on sponsorship IOMGU are delighted that such a renowned company has chosen to be part of what are the pinnacles of the annual IOM golfing calendar. Thanks also must go to Dennis McGurgan for his continued association.
Gerald Bradley of Castletown GC will have the honour of striking the first shot of the qualifying stages of this year’s Championship at 07.30hrs. Qualifying day is back to the traditional 36 holes of stroke play golf in the one day with the top 16 combined gross scoring golfers going forwards to match play rounds on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, with the final taking place in the form of 36 holes match play Sunday 14th July.
What might be the qualifying score on the day? Well the Willy Kirk stoke play competition, the month proceeding the island championship is a benchmark for the magic number. 148 stood as the score last month for the top sixteen, this was in blustery conditions, so with different weather on the day this could change significantly and "on the day" anything can happen.
The younger under 21s will be looking to not only qualify but also to win the Graeme Cairns best score for an under 21 year old, a number of past winners have gone on to win the main title. Not to count the over 50s out, with age being just a number, the keenly contested Bob Cowin trophy is another big part of the championship, with Ray Sayle winning it and the main title oddly enough at Douglas GC some two decades ago! Could one of the more senior competitors walk away with the main spoils? The ever green (and other vibrant colours) Keith Ward knows the course extremely well and with the experience of being a past finalist at Rowany could get his second bite of the cherry during match play stages this year. One serial entrant over the past twenty or so years will be looking to finally rid the qualifying day monkey from his back. Marc Harrison, moving back to the island from America last year and although a Mount Murray golfer played his golf at Douglas GC from a young age prior to his move off the island. If memory serves me correctly, he was involved in the lowest score never to qualify in an island golf championship, 141 at Peel in 2006. Maybe the golfing gods will be looking down on Marc this coming weekend.
The host club, Douglas GC, will be naturally delighted with a home grown winner and there are certainly a good number contending this week. Past island champions Kevin Moore and Peter Glover will be keen to add to their championship total, the latter will certainly be looking to set the record straight after being beaten in a play off for the W A Kirkpatrick title last month. Past finalist Richard Skillicorn would I'm sure give his back teeth in fulfilling another Skillicorn family win following grandfather Jim and uncle Kevin. Island Boys Champion Tommy Fenlon will be keen to make the last sixteen, as will the consistent Stephen Skillicorn, Michael Curphey, Peter Knight and Douglas course record holder Liam Cowin. A whole host of new faces from Douglas will be hoping their game is good enough to make the illustrious last sixteen also; John Oates, Dave Murray & Ricky Whipp in particular have being showing consistent form. After his Willy Kirk disappointment of missing out on a play off by a single shot the impressive Rob Noon will not be holding back and will be looking to secure the William Woods Trophy for Leading Qualifier as well as the "pot of gold" to be island champion for the year, one golfer that could certainly become a serial winner of the Island Championship given his talent. Winner of the recent Douglas Town Cup with a 62 Gross and just this weekend taking the Castletown Club Championship with a final round 69, Noon is the man in form!
Ramsey GCs inform Jamie Arniel, David Kinrade, lead the Ramsey crusade with Paul Allison. Kinrade has in the past year started to become a threat consistently producing good golf and will be looking for a top 16 berth come Saturday evening. Jamie Arneil has certainly become an excellent performer, both on and off island and is able to produce top flight golf when he wants to now, so don't be too surprised to see him challenge for the title in his own swashbuckling style.
Although, ready to spoil the party, the winner this year may come from the Mount Murray Massive, with recently crowned Peel Town Cup Champion Daryl Callister and Mount Murray Cup Winner Joe Raeside spear heading the Santon Challenge. Other club members that could cause upset are Tom Doyle, his great grandfather the green keeper at Douglas a number of decades ago coming into form with a steady 69 in the Port Erin Cup at Rowany last Saturday. Tim Calladine the Order of Merit Winner from Douglas last year, not forgetting the younger statesmen Tom Cain and Freddie Dancox and Sam Crawford. One thing is for certain only one man in the field is capable of back to back "major wins" this year with newly crowned Willy Kirk Champion Neil Caine looking to grab the course by the scruff and add to his trophy haul. Wybourn Groves Number one has proven he has all the attributes to lifting yet another title.
Moving south and next stop Castletown, and disappointing news that number one golfer Andrew Challenor will not be taking part this year, however, Jon Corke , Gerald Bradley, Lewis Howland and Mark Curphey, himself a past finalist at Douglas in the Millennium year will be flying the flag for Fortress Castletown.
Rowany golf club has certainly produced some excellent past winners over the decades, who can forget the Geoff Gelling, Mike Rae final in 1991, with Geoff holding off Mike for the title. Mike certainly took advantage of his second chance some 16 years later beating King Edward Bays Brian Duggan in a nail biting final at Douglas GC in 2007, Mike could well remember some of the magic again at Douglas this coming week; after all the late Ray Sayle beat the favourite 1989 Island Champion Gary Ashe, in his 50s, when the week just went right for him in the matchplay stages. Last man standing, Jack Gilbert will tee off last on Saturday whilst past champion Mark Sutton must be keen to "catch up" dad Julian on the family title tally. Always capable of something special, surely a Sutton or both will be contesting the Matchplay stages? Defending Champion Paul Lowey,a player that oozes talent, absent from the Willy Kirk last month, or as one player put it "giving the rest of us a chance" will be in the sights of the usual qualifiers. With multiple island golf championship wins under his belt already he won't want to give up the trophy without a jolly good fight. An excellent long game and incredible short game, if Lowey is on song we might see some records set this week!
Port St Marys Chad Wilby a first-time qualifier at Rowany last year could easily go back to back qualifying now that he has the key to making the last 16. Joining the big hitter from Fistard in this years entrants is Jay Gandy, who has himself been showing some steady form this year, a very neat performer, more than capable of following in younger brother Tom's footsteps.
A strong showing from Peel with two very much inform players, both capable of greatness with a "few years" separating them; Mark Pugh, winner in 1990 and Lee Morgan could well set the pace, with both being match play specialists. The newly retired and very steady Alan Gault could turn back the clock and show the youngster just how its done, whilst Danny Bell might go further in the match play this year, now that the football season is well and truly out of the way.
King Edward Bays current Club Champion Kevin Murphy can afford a lie in with his 11.20 tee time, joining him from “rock” will be Mike Harrison, past Semi Finalist Nicky Kelly, the powerful Ben Watson, father and son John & Paul McMullan and provided there’s no further DIY injuries Don Beggs should make his 0740 tee time!
One thing for sure Murray Jones and his troop of ground staff have the course in exceptional condition, there can be no excuses on what will be a very fair course this week. In charge of scoring, past IOMGU President Barry Skillicorn will be running his usual tight ship collating scores from the various score relays around the course, for all spectators and competitors alike to view. Always a great deal of excitement, spectators can keep abreast of players they are following, and also competitors can gauge what the cut might be and either sweat it out or retire to the bar comfortably! The organisation of such an event needs accurate planning and organisation and it is down to the contribution of those volunteers from the host golf club themselves on top of the IOMGU officials roles that make for such an excellent event. Douglas Golf Club Captains for 2019, Jim Cairney and Nicky Vincent will I’m sure be taking in all the action and atmosphere that goes with the island championships in what will be a memorable year for them both. One final mention will be to Mike Vipond and his team at Douglas GC, looking after all competitor and spectators needs, whether its refreshments during the interval, more drinks and golf balls for the second 18 holes you will be very well looked after.
IOMGU President Niall Keenan on duty for his first Isle of Man Golf Championship will certainly want top wish all competitors in both the men’s and ladies golf Championships all the best!