Thursday, May 31, 2012


All eyes will be on Ayrshire in late July when Tom Watson makes his return to Turnberry for The Senior Open Championship, but a feast of golf in the region begins when some of the best amateurs in the world gather at Kilmarnock (Barassie) this week for the Carrick Neill Scottish Stroke Play Championship from Friday to Sunday (June 1 to 3).
Watson, who won his ‘Duel in the Sun’ with Jack Nicklaus in 1977 before almost also tasting Open glory back at Turnberry 32 years later, will help draw in the crowds to Ayrshire from 26-29 July, as will The Amateur Championship being staged over Royal Troon and Gailes Links from 18-23 June. 
But it’s Barassie that will get the ball rolling on a superb run of events for the area, with the club welcoming a truly international entry list to celebrate its 125th anniversary year. Located on the outskirts of Troon, Barassie has a rich history of hosting high-profile tournaments.
As an Open Championship qualifying venue and host to The British Boys Amateur Championship, staging the Carrick Neill Scottish Stroke Play Championship will further add to its reputation. 
Since hosting the British Boys in 2010, a number of enhancements have made to the renowned links, including the construction of 10 new fairway bunkers and significant course drainage improvements, which are sure to meet with approval.
Past winners of the national Stroke Play Championship include Colin Montgomerie, Stephen Gallacher, Andrew Coltart, Dean Robertson, Alastair Forsyth and Richie Ramsay, with a quality field to assemble on the west coast in a bid to have their name etched on the silverware. 
Indeed, a handicap ballot as low as +1.8 – the lowest ever for a Scottish Golf Union event according to records – illustrates the quality of the competition, with some of the world’s best amateurs from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, USA and France all competing in the 143-man field.
South African Stroke Play champion Haydn Porteous and the Rainbow Nation’s rising star Brandon Stone, defeated by Brian Soutar (Leven GS) in the final of the South African Amateur, are among the leading names from South Africa, together with the likes of Shaun Smith and Charles du Plessis. 
Jake Higginbotham, the world’s sixth-best amateur from Australia, and compatriot Cameron Smith, ranked 15th in the world, also tee-up, ahead of many of the international players going on to contest the St Andrews Links Trophy (8-10 June), as well as The Amateur Championship.
Interestingly, New Zealander Vaughan McCall, who finished second to runaway winner Craig Hinton in the Welsh Open Stroke Play on Sunday, has his family roots in Scotland, with many of his ancestors actually buried in a graveyard in Newton-on-Ayr near Kilmarnock. 
SGU National Men’s Squad players will also start at Barassie with high hopes, especially having successfully competed against their South African counterparts during a winter performance programme, where they defeated the host nation in an international Test Match.
Balmore’s Fraser McKenna, twice a winner on the domestic circuit already this year, Craigmillar Park Open champion Graeme Robertson from Glenbervie, Kirkhill’s Paul Shields – joint-winner of the Northern Amateur Open in South Africa – Scott Crichton (Aberdour), James White (Lundin), Daniel Kay (Dunbar), Conor O’Neil (Pollok) and Soutar are all in the field. Scott Gibson (Southerness) and Grant Forrest (Craigielaw) have also returned from their studies in America to compete in the domestic summer season.
 So too are Paul Lawrie Foundation Scottish Boys champion Craig Howie and Barassie members Jack McDonald and Euan Walker, as well as former Scottish Amateur champion Glenn Campbell who finished fifth in the event last year over his home club of Blairgowrie.
 Crichton, who beat Stone three times in the Test Match victory, is coming off a fine share of fourth place at the Welsh Open Stroke Play.
The 24-year-old Fifer said: “I had a pretty decent week in Wales so hopefully that is something to build on. We are now into a six-week spell which shapes almost your whole season, so hopefully all the preparation work I did over the winter and at the start of the season produces some good results.” 
Crichton, who has recovered from a pulled neck muscle that forced him to withdraw from the Lytham Trophy, added: “It’s as good a field as you’ll get this week in a non-Walker Cup year. You will have to play well to be in contention.”
Andrew Sullivan, who went on to help Great Britain and Ireland to Walker Cup success before moving into the pro ranks, was the victor in 2011, a shot ahead of Steven Brown (Wentworth) with Shields in third place.
David Miller, Golf Director of Carrick Neill, said: “We are delighted to support the prestigious championship for the second year in a row and help the development of amateur golfers. 
“Given the quality of field assembled, we are looking forward to an excellent championship over the three days.
“Carrick Neill have been the Scottish Golf Union’s official insurance partner for many years and we are proud to have the association.” 
The 2012 Carrick Neill Scottish Stroke Play Championship is a 72-hole stroke play event, with 18 holes played on each of the first two days. The 40 competitors returning the lowest scores over the first 36 holes and those tying for 40th place play the final 36 holes. It is an R and A World Amateur Golf Ranking event and for Scottish players counts toward the SGU Order of Merit.
Entry to spectators for the competition is free and the venue is easily accessible via road and rail.
 Carrick Neill, who are also endorsed and recommended by England Golf and the Ladies' Golf Union, provide market-leading specialist golf insurance policies for individual golfers as well as providing cover for hundreds of golf clubs across the UK.



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