The County Championship at the Ely City Golf Club

It was a beautiful sunny morning as the competitors arrived at the Ely City golf club for the premier event of the year. The rescheduled Championship was reduced to 36 holes, in what has been a very difficult year for everyone, with golfers in the County very keen to get out and play some serious competitive golf.

David, the head greenkeeper and his team had worked extremely hard preparing for the Championship and they were setback in their preparations with the strong winds last week which left the course littered with fallen branches and twigs. However, come Sunday morning with the course looking in absolutely immaculate condition with the greens running at 11 on the stimp meter, it promised to be an exciting day’s golf.

For the 1st time, the players were using their mobile phones to record their scores on a hole by hole basis with live scoring available on the internet. It was certainly exciting for the officials and club members to see the Championship unfold from the tv screen in the clubhouse, as well as people watching at home on their computers. This year we had a high quality field with no fewer than 10 plus handicappers and 6 scratch golfers.

Teeing it up was County legend Lee Yearn, a nine times County Champion between 1992 and 2010, looking to make it an incredible 10 wins. Lee had probably not played in a Championship since his last win in 2010 and had drifted away from the game, becoming more interested in his passion for angling and running football teams.

After the 1st round the current holder Luke Ryan of the home club was in the lead with a fine 71, closely followed by James McLaughlin of Ely City, Ed Dimambro and Luke Bowers of Gog Magog, and Iain Clark of Bourn GC. Iain, playing off a handicap of 5, had an excellent round and led the January Cup with a net 67. A further shot back on 73 were Lee Yearn, Jake Plumb, Andrew Grimwood and Alex Kephart. Interestingly, Alex is from the USA and played in the US amateur that was won by top professional Matthew Fitzpatrick a few years ago.

The hole locations were changed for the 2nd round, a credit to the Ely City GC for this innovation, and they were in more challenging positions from the 1st round.

It wasn’t long before Yearn leapt into the lead with 3 birdies in the first 6 holes. Unfortunately, disaster struck on the 11th tee where I witnessed the head flying off his trusty, rusty long iron, his favourite club off the tee. I thought he would really struggle without it for the remaining holes. Fortunately for him, other leaders were falling back
into the pack and after playing 11 holes he had a three stroke lead.

Luke Ryan made a brave attempt to retain his title and only a bogey at the 18th hole put paid to his chances and he finished just I stroke off the winning score with a total of 146. Closely following behind him was 2017 County Champion Ed Dimambro, who had been suffering badly all day with food poisoning. He holed a very courageous long
putt on the 18th for an excellent birdie to pip Luke by one shot and finish on 145.

Some way behind, Lee had dropped shots on the 12th and 14th holes so he was tied on +1 with Ed but an up and down birdie on the 16th hole put him back in the lead by one stroke with 2 to play.

The heavens then opened and his tee shot only went about 120 yds and he struggled to make a bogey and it was level again. Ed must have thought he was going to win when Lee cold topped his 2nd shot into the last hole but a delightful pitch from 70 yds and a 6 foot putt to match meant that the pair were tied on 145 and it would need a 4 hole play-off to decide the Championship.

Both players were not at their best in the play off. It had been a long day for Lee, now well into his forties, and Ed who was still feeling very ill – beware the sick golfer! They both made easy pars at the 4th play off hole and were still tied in the gathering gloom.

With the light fading, I offered them both the opportunity to share the title, as it was soon going to be too dark to play more than one more hole. They both jumped at the chance so we have joint County champions, the first time this has happened in 71 years.

It’s been a strange year with the COVID-19 situation and with it being a reduced Championship to 36 holes and no one going through to represent the County at the English Champion of Champions it seemed the right thing to do as neither golfer deserved to lose the Championship in fading light.

Iain Clark continued his fine performance by finishing joint 8th in the Championship and lifting the January Cup with a fine score of 150-10=140.

The under 21 prize went to a promising youngster from Gog Magog in Ollie Brunt with 151.

The Seniors prize was won by County stalwart Terry Ryan, father of Luke, with a score of 154. Terry had the clubhouse crowd excited when the live scoring came through showing that he had holed in one at the 6th hole. His wife Julie and family rushed down to the club to celebrate with him but it turned out to be a bogey on that
hole. Mr Setchell, his playing partner, recording his scores, had lost his glasses and pressed the 1 instead of 4.

The Championship Shield was won by the home club team comprising of Luke Ryan, Lee Yearn and Ryan Woods with a score of 444.

My sincere thanks must go to the Ely City Golf club and club manager Anthony Roberts who was an enormous help leading up to the championship and throughout what was a very long day.

The food and refreshments were top quality and enjoyed by everyone. A special mention to the bunkers rakers Stan Nixon, Alan Todd and their team for raking the bunkers in between rounds, very much appreciated by the players. Finally, thanks to Ely City Golf club for their warm hospitality and to David once again for preparing a course in brilliant condition, fit to host this important Championship.

Next years Championship will revert to 72 holes and will be played on the Gog Magog Old Course on the 12/13 June.