The DevonGolf Seniors’ match season came to an extraordinary ending in Cornwall on Monday. An extraordinary course, extraordinary weather and an extraordinary finish to a massive game for both counties. Whichever side won would likely end up as Channel League Champions.
There was a late change to the Devon line up with Simon Waddington (Tiverton) withdrawing with back trouble, replaced by Barrie Keith (Warren). The side travelled down for practice on the Sunday, working out how to negotiate the incredible dunes, humps and hollows of the amazing topography of the course; not a flat stance or lie to be had.
Monday morning for the foursomes gave both teams some extraordinarily unattractive weather. There was a 20mph+ wind scything across the course, bringing heavy and persistent rain with it. And the home side got very much the best of the first session.
Andy Rowe and Phil Clayton finished off Tim Aggett (Warren) and Colin Papworth (Teignmouth) in double quick time in the top game, under par in the conditions hugely impressive. Sadly for Devon the same thing happened in the second game, Peter Bicknell (Torquay) and Paul Newcombe (East Devon) having no answer to some equally strong play from Charlie Phillips and Colin Kitt.
Thereafter through 6 holes of the 9-hole matches things looked good for the Devonians, all three remaining pairs leading at that point. Although Richard Ward (Dainton Park) and Tony Allsopp (Tiverton) missed a chance to extend their 2-hole lead over Richard Bunch and Gary Stone at 6 they stayed solid to win the game at the 8th. It was the only comfort Devon had in the morning.
Paul Vicary (Saunton) and Keith had a chance to go 2up on Malcolm Edmunds and Dave Kneebone at 6, but the chance was lost and the Cornish pair made us pay, holing a huge putt to win the 8th and be all square, winning the 9th and final hole with par in the worsening conditions for a 1 up win.
There was a long wait for the last game to arrive, but as they emerged through the rain it became clear Warwick Holland and Rod Handysides had picked up another 1 up win for the Cornish, this time over Dave Eva (Thurlestone) and Mark Evans (RND). 4-1 Cornwall at lunch.
With the rain still falling in torrents there was a delay to the start of the afternoon singles, but eventually play began with the hope (realised after about 45 minutes) that the rain would abate even if the wind stayed strong (which it did). Knowing only 3 losses could be sustained to win the game Aggett lead off for the Devonians, and gained some measure of revenge for the morning, dispatching Cornwall Captain Rowe 5/4. Bicknell got an early advantage over Kneebone, but the experienced Cornishman wouldn’t let go, and the match was all square with 2 to play. A wrong choice of club for the approach to 18 proved costly for Dave, as Peter took the second game and second point for Devon.
In match 3 Paul Newcombe was struggling with the putting surfaces in the conditions and lost out to Charlie Phillips at the 15th. Paul Vicary was also having to fight hard to stay with Phil Clayton; having been down all the way he levelled after 12 only for Phil to pull away again and win at the 16th. Trouble for Devon, with news that two matches at the back were heavily in Cornwall’s favour; at the time, and with the Bicknell/Kneebone game at that point unfinished Cornwall lead 6-2.
Then came the middle-order fight back. In short order Papworth, Ward and Evans all completed wins, the first two at the 15th, Evans at 14 over Kitt, Stone and Bunch respectively. With news of Devon’s win in the 2nd game confirmed, suddenly 6-6, with 3 games still going. But through 12 Warwick Holland was 5 up on Barrie Keith, Rod Handysides 4 up on Dave Eva whilst Tony Allsopp and Malcolm Edmunds were all square following a stunning and winning up and down from Malcolm.
A distraught Barrie found the wheels had well and truly come off for him, and Warwick cruised to a 5/4 win. Dave, however, wasn’t done, and when they reappeared playing 15 in front of the group following the matches Dave’s solid par left him only 2 down with 3 holes to play. Both missed the green at the long, demanding par 3 16th but both made great par saves, Rod following Dave’s putt in as both holed from around 6 feet. That guaranteed Cornwall a tied match at the least, but could they snatch a victory?
Looked likely at the next, with Dave outside Rod’s approach and neither within 20 feet, but the Devonian rose to the occasion and holed a slippery downhill birdie putt which Rod couldn’t match. At the final hole Dave produced a superb pitch to the severely elevated green to just 4 feet from the hole, and when Rod’s long birdie putt didn’t fall knocked that putt in to win the hole and halve the game. 7 ½ - 6 ½ with one game still going.
Tony and Malcolm were level playing 17. Tony hit his second within 10 feet at the 17th, and with Malcolm missing the green right in a horrible place looked in charge. Malcolm produced a wonderful pitch within 6 feet, but then both missed their putts! Tony’s par gave him a crucial 1-hole advantage down the last.
More drama. With everyone now congregated around this last game there was kit, clubs and people all over the place. Tony contrived to hit his foursomes partner’s trolley with the tee shot, knocking a good 60 yards off the shot and leaving him a 100-yard horror into and across the wind, which in the event picked the ball up and dumped it right of the green 8 feet below the level of the surface. Malcolm produced another sound pitch to the back of the green and looked in control until Tony hit a masterful chip. Malcolm missed the awkward and lengthy birdie putt, leaving Tony to clean up from 3 feet for the win. Match tied 7 ½ all.
It was an absolutely fantastic game, playing in occasionally appalling conditions but in fabulous spirit. In some ways it was a result that helped neither team. Devon can definitely not win the title, sitting with 3 ½ points from 6 games, now a half match point behind Cornwall on 4. However, the Cornish remain in with a shout depending on how the results go in this week’s two other crucial matches, particularly the Gloucester/Gwent clash at Brickhampton. Whatever the outcomes, Devon wish the absolute best for their nearest neighbours and that results do go their way.
The result brings to an end a season of so near, yet so far. A loss on the tie-break rules denied the side a trip to English Senior County Finals; just 1 point separated them from a first ever Southern Counties Foursomes win and it looks likely Devon will be just half a point shy of a third consecutive Channel League title. It’s been a fantastic season for no concrete outcome.