State of the Nation '“ Golf: Sheffield continue to boss the other unions

Friday, 6th January 2017, 5:50 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th January 2017, 4:20 am

SHEFFIELD reinforced its status as a golfing powerhouse last year – and that is even when discounting the achievements of its two most accomplished players.

Masters champion Danny Willett and Matt Fitzpatrick, twice a winner on the European Tour in 2016, both rose through the ranks of Yorkshire Inter-District Union golf.

And they will have been delighted with the way that their successors continue to dominate.

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The South Yorkshire district is not only the biggest of the county’s eight unions, it remains the best. They had a new captain in 2016 in Neil Stones, but that was the only thing that changed as they reprised their double of the previous year, lifting both the league and six-man titles.

One of the reasons for the smooth transition after a change of leadership was Stones’s use of advice given by predecessors, including 2015 captain Richard Hodgkinson and former captain and ex-Yorkshire champion Iain Mackenzie.

“I got a couple of good tips from Iain McKenzie and Richard has been brilliant too and I really enjoyed my first year,” he says.

“I also had a few ideas of my own and it was nice that they worked out because you never know in sport. Things went our way fortunately – but I shan’t be giving those secrets away that Iain and Richard gave me.”

York played under the shadow cast by the sudden death of their captain Russ Chilton on the eve of the season. But they did his memory proud by finishing alongside Sheffield at the top of the league table with six wins and just one loss, only ceding the title on fewer games won.

They also finished only two shots adrift of Sheffield in the six-man team championship at Halifax Bradley Hall.

Martin Greaves assumed Chilton’s role as captain and concedes that it was painful for the team to deal with his passing.

“We lost Russ before the season got underway, and he was such a larger than life character – not just for York, but for golf in Yorkshire and in the North,” says Greaves.

“So many people knew the guy and had lots of time for him and respect for him that it was quite hard for the lads to pick themselves up from that.

“But we did and it was another very rewarding season in terms of the performance, but frustrating that we didn’t win one of the two majors.”

East Riding captain Andy Woodhead acknowledges that, while his side placed third, they were “quite a way behind” the top two. But a rousing finish, their 26-10 defeat of Teesside, and 2017 fixtures that give them home advantage against both Sheffield and York sees him looking forward with great relish to the new campaign.

“After previous years I was quite happy to finish third,” he says. “I think we have only got a couple of players with plus handicaps at the moment.

“With the way the fixtures fall this year we have got York and Sheffield at home and if we play with locals with local knowledge... I’m looking forward to this season – as long as I can get the players to commit.”

Nigel McKee admits to being left a little frustrated initially after his first season as Leeds’s captain.

His side lost their opening three matches – albeit two of those defeats were against Sheffield and York – before closing with three wins in their last four. It gave them a creditable fourth place, and the achievement was augmented by Leeds placing only four shots adrift of winners Sheffield in the six-man team championship.

“I did feel gutted after the six-man event,” he recalls. “Apart from Ben Hutchinson (Howley Hall), who is the Yorkshire champion, I would have picked the same team. He probably would have made the difference, but we had two plus handicappers and were full of scratch players. So to go so close was hard.

“But then both Ben Firth (Moortown) and Tom Broxup (Cookridge Hall) put things up on their Facebook pages – which was really nice – saying what a pleasure it had been to play under me and that they were looking forward to playing in the future.”

Halifax-Huddersfield head into the new season buoyed by their runner-up spot in the six-man championship, where they lost out to Sheffield only on an afternoon count back.

“The league itself didn’t really pan out the way we thought it might do,” recalls captain Dave Pullen, whose side finished fifth, unable to overcome the damage caused by defeats in their first two matches.

“The season itself just sort of petered out a little bit, but I think there was a bit more focus in the six-man team championship.

“Coming second was a great achievement and so the season was not a waste, but it could have been better.”

Harrogate captain Kev Ward hopes the incentive of possibly catching the eye of Yorkshire selectors will encourage players to try to use the YIDU League as a stepping stone to county golf.

“Some players don’t realise this is one step below county and if you turn up and play reasonable you get recognition from the Yorkshire selectors,” he says.

Bradford were under new leadership in Martin Gaffney, and he has savoured his first year in a role that had been filled by Tim Wade.

“Introducing a few younger players should enable me, in future seasons, to balance experience and youth while not relying too heavily on those with family commitments,” he says.

Teesside captain Gary Ient saw his side end bottom of the YIDU table, but the infusion of several juniors into the team bodes well for the union’s future.

This optimistic outlook is heightened by their youngsters’ success at Hessle in August, where they won the Yorkshire junior team championship.

“I think the highlight for me is that I have used some of the juniors, and people will note that the junior team won the ‘big six’, and that was a marvellous result for those six young men,” says Ient.