It has been won by the likes of Bernard Gallacher, Ronnie Shade and George Macgregor and boasts one of the game’s iconic trophies. But is the Lothians Championship losing its sparkle due to the changing face of the amateur game?
Qualifying for this year’s event takes place on Saturday at the Glen and Whitekirk. The match-play phase is at Longniddry next week. It’s the flagship event on the Lothians Golf Association calendar and used to be a stick-on for a full field. Not any more, though.
“Ideally, we are looking for 150,” said tournament secretary Duncan Thompson. “Last year we had 132; this year we’ve got 118.” That’s despite him sending two e-mails to the secretaries of every club affiliated to the Lothians GA to remind their members. “Last year we struggled a bit to get a full compliment in most competitions,” added Thompson.
It’s a common problem across the board in the amateur game and shows no sign of abating.
What has also hit events like the Lothians Championship, though, is a loss of players to other tournaments and commitments overseas.
Saturday’s qualifying, for instance, clashes with the prestigious Lytham Trophy. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, it starts in Lancashire tomorrow and features Dunbar duo Zander Culverwell and Danny Kay as well as Kingsknowe’s Allyn Dick. Culverwell (2005) and Dick (2010) are both former Lothians champions so there’s two big guns gone straight away. In Culverwell’s case, it’s the reigning Scottish Amateur champion.
The Lothians also boasts Scotland’s top-ranked amateur in Craigielaw’s Grant Forrest. He’s an absentee as well and so too is James Ross from Royal Burgess. They are still in America, as are others such as Calum Hill and Greg Smail. It means that a once-coveted title now has something of a hollow ring to it. That’s a pity, but it’s also no fault of those who have entered and following Lothians legends such as Gallacher, Shade and Macgregor will be their motivation.
For Alan Anderson, it’s a chance to become just the third player after Keith Nicholson (Haddington) and Stuart Smith (Duddingston) to claim the title more than twice. The Bruntsfield Links man triumphed for the first time at Broomieknowe in 2011 then reclaimed the crown at Duddingston 12 months ago.
The initial aim is to be among the 32 qualifiers. Top of that pile last year and winner of the Stuart Cup was Broomieknowe’s Jamie McIntosh. He’s defending that and starts out at the Glen. Longniddry last staged the championship proper in 2008. Chris Orr, a Craigielaw member at the time, lifted the title on that occasion.
He didn’t hang around long in the Lothians but Steven Armstrong, the runner-up six years ago, is still very much part of the local scene. The Turnhouse man is trying again to repeat his 2004 triumph, but, in a rare occurrence, there’s no Nicholson in the line-up this year.
With all due respect to the likes of Anderson and Armstrong, what the event probably needs is a couple of youngsters to at least make the semi-final line-up. The likes of Bathgate’s Scott McCandless or Lee Rhind’s younger brother and Kingsfield member, Jordyn, for example.
Back in 2007, Ross used this event – he reached the final – as a springboard to become a Scotland player and now a GB&I squad member.
Someone doing something similar can help put some sparkle back into a great event.