Following victory in The Big Six, the Northumberland team is heading back to the national county finals and the team has its sights set on a first win in more than 50 years
For a second time in three years, Northumberland is heading to the English Men’s County Championship – which takes place at Huddersfield Golf Club at the end of September – and the team has its sights set on being crowned best in England for the first time since 1965.
Led by county captain David Gilroy, the six-man team produced near faultless golf at Alnmouth Golf Club to win the Northern Counties Qualifying event – AKA The Big Six. Over two rounds, the team put together an eight shot victory over Cheshire, reversing a five shot deficit from the morning session. The team is now heading back to the national final with a group which David says has the best shot of winning since the 60s.
“This is very different to our win in 2017,” he says. “When we made it to the national finals in 2017 for the first time since 1996, we were out of our depth. We’ve learned from that, we’re preparing better and we’re ready to compete. The team is good enough, we’ve got winners in there with a lot of experience, it’s just a case of getting out there and doing it now.”
The team at Alnmouth – Hexham’s Matty Lamb and Sean Heads, Newcastle United’s Mark Wharton, Close House’s Christian Brown, Gosforth’s Gary Donnison and City of Newcastle’s Andrew Minnikin – brought together a perfect mix of experience and youth.
David said: “Going into The Big Six, I knew we had a chance with those six guys. The key for us was preparation, so we booked a year in advance to stay on-site, we focussed our practice on holes four, five and six as they’re the key to good scores at Alnmouth, and we came up with a gameplan.
“Going into the second round five shots behind Cheshire, I knew we were in a strong position. The guys were ready and five of them improved their scores and the sixth matched his morning round despite the conditions being tougher. That 12 shot improvement as a team was superb.”
Gary, who returned to the amateur ranks having been a professional and then taken a break from the game in the last six years, has relished being back in the team environment. He said: “It’s been great getting back into the county game and being part of a successful year for the Northumberland team.
“It’s different as an amateur. I hadn’t played foursomes for 20 years, but the camaraderie is fantastic. We’re a small county compared to the likes of Yorkshire but we’ve got a talented set of lads and we have as good a chance as we’ve had in a long time to win the national title.”
Meanwhile, Matty is looking forward to another national event at the end of a busy season. Runner-up in the St Andrews Links Trophy, He returned to the national team this year and will represent England in the Home Internationals at Lahinch in September as well as playing for his county at Huddersfield.
“It’s been a busy season but winning the individual title at an event like The Big Six is always going to stand out,” he said. “While it’s a great personal achievement, when you’re wearing your county colours it’s all about the team. I love being a part of the county side and it would be a great end to the season to win the national title.”
Andrew and Sean will be returning to the County Championship having been part of the 2017 team which played in the event at Trevose. Andrew said: “We learned a lot two years ago and we’ll be far better prepared when we arrive at Huddersfield thanks to that experience. We’ve got a great camaraderie, we’ll be travelling with seven top golfers in our team and we know we have an opportunity to win.”
Sean added: “To win The Big Six was very special. The camaraderie among the guys is phenomenal and it’s going to be great to be back at the national finals.”
County champion Mark will make his first trip to the national finals and is relishing the opportunity. “Beating the northern counties is always going to be special for the team, and to do it at home was great. Now we need to go one step further and win the national title for the first time in more than 50 years.”
Meanwhile, Christian has returned to college in the US and will be replaced in the squad by Phil Ridden while Alex Dixon will make up the seven player squad for the three day event.
“The team spirit is phenomenal in this group of guys. That’s been the key for us bringing together a group of talented players and making them into a team that can win,” said David. “We’ve learned from 2017, we’ve got our preparation right, we’ve got fantastic support from Mike Bowers at Cellular Solutions, and we’ve got the most talented Northumberland teams in years. We’ve got a great chance to do something very special for our county.”
The Men’s County Championship takes place at Huddersfield Golf Club, September 27-29. Four counties – Northumberland, Somerset, Nottinghamshire and Kent – will compete in round robin matches made up of three foursomes and six singles games as they bid to add their names to English golf’s history books.