2019 National Final
The Ailsa Course - Turnberry, Scotland | Sept 3rd & 4th
The Ailsa course at Turnberry has been thoroughly overhauled and re-designed since it last hosted The Open in 2009 and provided an absolutely stunning setting for the 2019 International Timber National Final. Leading up to the event everyone had their eye on the long-range forecast which was predicting strong winds and rain for much of the 2-day trip to Scotland’s west coast. As the players began to arrive on Tuesday afternoon, so did the weather - ideas of practice rounds quickly disappeared with everyone happy to camp out in the famous “Duel In The Sun” bar in the Turnberry Clubhouse, overlooking the courses. As the rain subsided, most of the group took part in a mini par 3 challenge around the “Wee Links” set in front of the grand main hotel building.
Much to everyone’s delight, Wednesday’s wake-up call for the golf was accompanied by some sunshine, which made for some incredible views across the resort from the Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom. Players were all welcomed with a full-Scottish breakfast spread to fuel their 18 holes around the Ailsa.
The golf event kicked off with a clinic from the Turnberry PGA Pro’s, with everyone testing their local knowledge on how to hit the much-needed low punch shots and the perfect technique for escaping the links’ famous pot bunkers.
Leading the groups out were the champions from each of the 4 regional events; Neil Gunn, Bob Smith, Alan Ashmore and Dan Martin. They were followed by Mark Thomson and the Grangemouth group, John Dowd, deputising for Jason Daw with the Parkend team, Mat Lewis and his Purfleet guests and, last out, Phil Taylor with the rest of the Trafford Park players.
The weather conditions early-on were testing to say the least - much to the delight of Mark Thomson who was very keen for everyone to experience a proper test of the finest Scottish links course there is. The Ailsa is the number one ranked course in the UK and was presented in absolutely pristine condition; given the extreme wind and rain on the day of the event, it’s a huge testament to the design of the course that it was still enjoyed by everyone and for most of the guests the weather just added to the full experience.
On the way out to the famous Turnberry Lighthouse (now the half-way house after the re-design of the resort), the front 9 played mostly into the gusty wind which played havoc with the scoring! The 9th hole, a par 3 set right along the sea-front and played across the rocks towards the lighthouse, was the chosen hole for the Koppers Hole-in-One challenge - given the conditions, a hole in one was always going to be extremely unlikely but a lot of players were able brace themselves against the whipping wind and crashing waves to hit the green with their tee-shots!
Through the front 9, the scores were very close in the champions group with just one point separating Neil Gunn and Bob Smith. In the team event, Purfleet stormed into an early lead with 38 points after 9 holes, 5 ahead of second-placed Grangemouth - these 2 regions developing somewhat of a rivalry after their close battles across all 4 national finals so far. In the race for the best individual score on the day (outside the champion of champions), with the front 9 playing so tough, no-one was really running away with it and in fact there were just 2 points separating Alex Waters, Terry Merryman, Andy King and Graeme Roughead.
After a well-earned half-way house pitstop, the conditions turned a lot more favourable on the back 9 holes; the rain eased off, the clouds (partially!) parted and gave way to some glorious sunshine. The wind was also straight behind the players for most of the way in which lead to a huge improvement in the scoring.
Alan Ashmore in the champions group came roaring back with a string of 2- and 3-pointers to pile the pressure on Bob and Neil coming down the last hole. However, after Neil’s drive narrowly escaped the gorse bushes, he was able to finish the hole with a bogey 5 for 2 points which was good enough to claim the overall Champion of Champions Trophy for 2019.
With Grangemouth taking the spoils last year at Celtic Manor, Mark Thomson was keen for his group to put in a back 9 charge to catch Purfleet and defend their title. Whether it was Mark’s half-way house team-talk or the whiskies, something inspired them to an incredible back-9 run of 44 points for 77 overall. However, it was Mat Lewis and Purfleet who would have the final say. Like Tom Watson in 2009, finishing with a par 4 would win it. Despite not playing his best golf for the rest of the round, Mat was able to deliver and get his team over the line by a point with 78 in total!
In the individual competition, Andy King, playing off 18, put together a fantastic run from the 10th including a birdie and 3 pars. His 20-point back 9, 34 total, proving too good for the others to catch and enough to take the spoils by 3 points.
Lee Griffiths took home the Scott Edwards Memorial longest drive trophy with an incredible hit of about 325 yards.
The day concluded with a fantastic dinner laid on by Turnberry in the Champions Suite overlooking The Ailsa 18th green. The impressive resort was absolutely first class throughout the stay and ensured the event has left everyone with memories they will be talking about for years to come.