April 8th 2018 – Luton Hoo Golf Club

Despite winter lingering longer than ever before, the 2018 summer golf season started with a friendly at the exclusive Luton Hoo Golf Club – it soon became evident, like a lot of golf clubs ‘The Hoo’ had suffered in the face of a long, cold and wet winter. Fairways difficult to identify and greens that were very slow and bumpy in places – this is no means a slight at the course’s Head Greenkeeper, just the way it is. Both sets of players would find the conditions very difficult for the duration of the days play.

The normal format was in place with 5 morning foursome matches to be followed by 10 singles in the afternoon. In the Northamptonshire ranks were a mix of experience and youth as is now customary. The team made up as follows: Liam McNeela (Northants County), Fraser Carnihan, Michael Farr (Overstone), Tom Burgh, Mark Phillips (Peterborough Milton), Jon Harris, Jamie Milligan (Wellingborough), Miles Mudge (Staverton Park), Lee Hitchcock (Kingsthorpe) and debutant Jordan Darnell (Kettering).

The matches got underway with Miles Mudge and Michael Farr in match one, the two Wellingborough boys at 2, youngsters McNeela and Darnell third, the Milton pairing second last, with experienced pair of Carnihan and Hitchcock bringing up the rear.

As expected and from match 1, the greens were indeed going to be a challenge, with a succession of confused faces and missed opportunities and with the weather closing in and rain beginning from around the mid point of the morning matches, it became clear this was a going to be a battle of patience as well as the normal battle of golf and your opponents.

Fortunately the Northants team have patience and determination in spades, not to mention quality, and over the next couple of hours each match continued in, or swung into our advantage – when the morning series was over we had recorded 5 winning matches – something I don’t recall happening in the past – a clean sweep in foursomes.

During the relaxed lunch break the players got the chance to warm up and dry out somewhat while the captains plotted the afternoon’s adventure in further rain and increasingly cold conditions.

With plenty of options and talent, Northants captain chose Michael Farr to lead the team out in the singles matches, playing against highly rated Jack Hawksby – this was probably ‘Match  of the Day’ with Michael needing 4 birdies in a row from the 8th to level the tie after 12. The finish to this match was of equal high quality, Michael had lost a hole by the time the players reached the 16th – Luton Hoo closes with back to back par 5’s and a short par 4 – so lots of chances for matches to change hands – Michael struck a beautiful long iron onto the front of the 16th green, followed by an accomplished long putt, for a gimme 4 to get the match back to all square. Another powerful drive and this time well struck mid iron, Michael set up the chance for an eagle – with his opponent in for 4, Michael judged speed and line perfectly and holed his putt to take a 1up advantage to the last. A solid par would in the end be enough to get the match over the line and an impressive 1 up victory.

Mudgie would finish his match prior to Michael with a very solid performance at number 2. Mixing 4 birdies with one bogey, Miles shook hands on the 16th green with a 4&2 win.

Jamie Milligan at number three would be the first not to register a singles point for the day – despite the normal excellent ball striking from Jamie, he was one of a few that seemed to suffer more on the greens surfaces. In the end a disappointing defeat, but by no means a poor return from the professional ranks from the Wellingborough member.

Liam McNeela playing at 4 would end up being ‘out-experienced’ by Bedfordshire Captain, Norman Cilliers. Not know for giving up lost causes, Norm’s South African roots shone through on a difficult day for his team. Liam possibly struggled from a misbehaving driver, which is not like the player we discovered 12 months ago!

With that the afternoon matches sat at 2-2 – while we probably had enough in the tank to get the overall match across the line, it was important that we continued the domination from the morning through the afternoon to consolidate the end result.

Experience, followed youth, followed experience in the next three matches, with Jon Harris, Jordan Darnell and Mark Phillips filling up the middle order and all three players would end up winning points – with varying levels of success – Jon Harris shaking hands on a huge 7&5 victory, a great return for his days work  – though his length disadvantage was tempered somewhat when his opponents driver broke on the 1st tee. Take nothing away from one of the counties most steely and determined golfers – well done Jonno!

Jordan’s debut would end with a real test of his mental fortitude and golfing ability. Playing against another very experienced campaigner, Jordan was given a real test after going up early. But a combination of excellent driving and sharp short game work led to a 1up victory and 2 points on debut.

Mark Phillips would close his match out on the 16th green in fine style, holing a long eagle putt. Another example of determination and experience from the Northants ranks – Mark’s fine ball striking was enough to get across the line.

Obviously by this point the match result wasn’t in any doubt, so it left just three matches out on the course. At this point Lee Hitchcock (playing last) would appear from behind the trees and calmly nod when asked if he’d won. Another large individual victory, finishing on the 13th green. Another player recently back from the professional ranks, Lee’s experience and calmness will fit well into our squads.

The next match to appear was match 9 – Fraser Carnihan, seemingly the only man who does not need the shelter and defense of waterproofs looked like his long game was in excellent shape – but as it transpired Fraser was the second of our team who really had a hard time on the greens. Despite giving everything to the team and to try and win his point Fraser was not able to hole the putts necessary to get his game further than the 16th green.

Then it went quiet….’has everyone finished?’ There was one group missing! Tom Burgh in match 8 had spent the afternoon searching for golf balls – apparently not his own and when they finally came into view, playing the 16th, the opponents would again spend a long period of time looking for a ball – looking for a lot longer that the Northants captain would have looked for…Tom’s nice nature did not in the end damage his match score and having been up from early on, managed to hold onto his advantage to the 17th green, where his match successfully ended. At this point the rain had stopped, for the first time since 10.30am!!

A really excellent team performance from the Northamptonshire team, the winning total would close at 12-3 – the largest difference between our two counties ever, perhaps…as always the day had been a very enjoyable one, with excellent banter and respect between the two sides.

Our next friendly takes place at Wellingborough on the 22nd of April against Warwickshire.