(Main photo, Champion of Champions Jack Malone Rugby GC, click to enlarge and see details of smaller photos)
The Warwickshire Champion of Champions Tournament was held over the Arden course at the Forest of Arden on 24th October. This event is one where every current Mens Club Champion is invited by the Union to compete against each other to find the ultimate Club Champion.
As we all know the Arden course is especially difficult to return a good score and can take its toll on players with some relieved to finish the round. This however is nothing to do with the quality of the course as the layout is excellent and the condition of the course for this time of year is right up there with the best of the best. In fact playing this event on this course is the reason why we have so many Club Champions wanting to compete.
Fraser Liston, Director of Golf at the Forest of Arden, believes that one of the reasons good golfers find it tricky is down to the fact that there aren't that many 'birdie holes' and those that are there you have to be in the right place and grasp the opportunity when you're there. An example of this would be the par 5 seventh hole which statistically was the easiest hole of the day with around one third of the whole field making birdie and an impressive 73% of the field making par or better.
On the other hand, there are also plenty of holes that are very difficult and it is just as important to come through these holes relatively unscathed. Examples of these holes that quickly spring to mind would be the long uphill 9th hole which only gave in to 1 single birdie and also took plenty of prisoners with over 60% of the field making a bogey or worse. The 9th however didn't play the hardest on the day, that reward goes to the dogleg par 4 16th hole. Whether this is due to the positioning needed off the tee or the water you have to carry for your second shot is unclear but with the average score on this hole being a whopping 5.2, therefore more than a whole shot over par with no birdies recorded on the day.
Now, some of you may be wondering why so far I've written more about the course and not the golf itself, but be patient! I'm setting the scene and trying to express the thoughts of many players who compete in this event who tend to be quite surprised what some of the scores are in this tournament.
To the golf itself...
After 8 holes we had a 4-way tie for the lead with Rob Copperthwaite (Stratford on Avon), Lewis Phillips (Nuneaton), Jack Malone (Rugby) and Dan Bardsley (Moor Hall) all on 1 under par. Then only Lewis succumbed to the difficulties of the 9th with a bogey, but Dan quickly following afterwards with a bogey on the 10th. This left Jack and Rob tied until Rob birdied the 12th to go to 2-under par for the round.
However, Rob then hit a couple of problems and returned two double bogeys in quick succession on the 13th and 14th leaving Jack alone at the top, but only leading by 1 shot from his playing partner Dan - but for only 1 hole as Jack made a bogey on 15 and dropped to 1 over par and a share of the lead again with Dan. The challenges of the 16th hole then came into force with Dan making bogey but Rob and Jack making pars we were left with Jack leading the field on 1 over par, Dan on 2 over and Rob on 3 over.
On to the par 5 17th hole at 487 yards long and although down hill has a lake guarding the front of the green, not that any of this was an issue for the 3 leaders and all of them making birdie to go to the last hole. The 18th hole is a 207 yard par 3, over a lake and can play havoc with a score card and could easily change the result of this tournament with anything from a birdie to a double bogey easily possible.
Our leader Jack made a bogey to bring him back towards the pack, but Dan also made a bogey meaning no matter what he would finish one shot short. But then Rob made a birdie, playing his last two holes in 2 under par and finishing in a tie on 73 with Jack. After the troubles Rob found earlier in the round, this finish in his last tournament as an Amateur was especially impressive.
For the first time in this event we had a playoff for the title. The playoff procedure for this tournament is to play the 18th hole until there is an outright winner so we took the walk back to play the intimidating last hole where Rob won the honour and with the pin tucked nicely behind the left green side bunker he proceeded to hit the middle of the green followed by Jack just missing to the right hand side. Jack then hit a good chip but with the pin position especially difficult it slid a few feet by. Rob's first putt also struggled to stop near the hole and both players walked off with a 4 and back to the tee.
With Rob keeping the honour he again hit the ball in almost exactly the same spot as he had just been standing and Jack miscuing slightly to finish a few yards short of the green. Jack's pitch finished a few feet from being able to catch the slope down to the pin meaning he was left with a long first putt and with Rob's first putt managing to stay a little closer to the hole than with his first attempt 5 minutes earlier, he was back in the driving seat. Jack was to putt first and from 12 foot holed a great putt for bogey putting the pressure back onto Rob. Rob's putt for par horseshoed the hole but made the return for bogey and back again to the tee!
The wind at this point was getting stronger and cooler, making the shot into this hole even more difficult, Rob didn't catch his tee shot like the ones previous which finished short and left of the green giving him a tricky pitch to a tricky pin position. Jack hit a good tee shot finishing just through the back of the green but by far the easiest route to the hole we had seen so far. Rob had some rough to deal with that tangled round the club and lead to his ball finishing towards the back of the green and although a par was still possible it was also unlikely. Jack's approach to the hole was good and finishing in a good range of the hole. Rob's putt missed and also his putt for bogey slid by. This lead to Jack having 2 putts for the win, but casually only needed the one making good par to take the title.
Well done to Jack Malone, Warwickshire Champion of Champions for 2018. Interestingly, with this win Jack joins two other Champions from Rugby, Dale Marson and Tom Cleaton, who have both won this event run the past making it 3 Champions in 6 years since its inception in 2013!
Commiserations to Rob, where losing in a playoff is always harder on the player, good luck on your future plans as a professional!
Lastly, thank you to the Forest of Arden and to Fraser Liston for hosting this event now for 6 years in succession, it is very much appreciated and we hope this connection continues long into the future.
For all scores CLICK HERE (CSS of 75!)
For some photos CLICK HERE
by Matt Nixon