Martin Dempster: Why Dispatch Trophy must never be scrapped

Edinburgh Castle provides a spectacular backdrop on the 17th hole at The Braid Hills, home of the Dispatch Trophy
Edinburgh Castle provides a spectacular backdrop on the 17th hole at The Braid Hills, home of the Dispatch Trophy
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I’d be telling a bare-faced lie if I tried to claim I was anything other than being disappointed not to be heading down to Wentworth for this week’s 
BMW PGA Championship. Who, after all, wouldn’t enjoy spending a few days in the leafy Surrey stockbroker belt watching the events unfold in one of the game’s most prestigious tournaments? Even more so when this staging marks the start of the European Tour’s new mega-money Rolex Series and is being played on a course already earning rave reviews after its latest revamp.

Yes, I know it seems like madness to be missing out on all that, especially when I can’t join Rory McIlroy in putting it down to an injury and needing to get ourselves ready for the US Open next month, but there are times in life when you really have to try and do the right thing and that, for me in this instance, means covering an event that has been part of Edinburgh’s sporting landscape since 1890.

The Dispatch Trophy, which got its name when the Capital had two evening newspapers, was first played, to put things into perspective, before golf’s great triumverate of Harry Vardon, J H Taylor and James Braid, appeared on the scene. Held permanently at The Braid Hills, a municipal course, it’s a four-man team event played as a double foursome. I had no idea whatsoever what the heck was going on the first time I encountered that format but soon cottoned on and it really is brilliant because ties can turnaround so quickly and often do.

That, coupled, of course, with the spectacular views you get in all directions but across Edinburgh towards Fife in particular and also the camaraderie that has always seems to have existed, make the Dispatch Trophy a hugely enjoyable event to cover, but there’s even more to it than that as far as I am concerned.

Long gone, I’m afraid, are the days when the tournament had no problems attracting a full field of 128 clubs, as it regularly did between 1963 and 1980. Sadly, many of the clubs, and bear in mind a lot of the teams back then represented banks, insurance companies and Government departments, no longer exist and the same goes for some of the clubs within golf clubs. To be perfectly blunt, the event looked to be dying on its feet and going the same way as the Scottish Foursomes Championship, once a much popular event but no longer even held. Just 42 teams, the lowest since 1919, entered last year’s Dispatch Trophy and that rose by only four this time around, the second year the event has been played under the Edinburgh Leisure banner.

What was encouraging, though, was that 11 new teams were in this year’s field when the opening two rounds were played at the weekend as course-owning clubs jumped at the opportunity to take part for the first time due to the rules, sensibly so, being relaxed. They included the likes of Dunbar, Gullane, Kilspindie and Tantallon and, believe me, it is real thrill for all the players in those teams to have been given the chance to experience this great old tournament.

Which gets me round to why, deep down, I won’t mind being back up at The Braid Hills tonight then again on Thursday and Saturday instead of making that trip to Wentworth. My mentor as a golf writer was Ian MacNiven and he just loved the Dispatch Trophy. It was easily his favourite week of the year and, before the days when football was given over-the-top coverage, his reports often made the back page of the Edinburgh Evening News, The Scotsman’s sister title. I caught the Dispatch Trophy bug off the man affectionately known as “Big Ian” and he’s the main reason why it will always come first for me if, as has now happened for the past two years, it clashes directly with the PGA Championship.

I get how some of my fellow golf writers snigger about that and simply can’t get their head round why I’d be covering an amateur tournament instead of what will always be widely regarded as the European Tour’s flagship event. The game, though, can’t just be about what happens at the top level in the professional ranks. It also needs tournaments at grass-roots level to be healthy and getting some sort of coverage.

Even if it is simply to honour Ian MacNiven’s memory, that will certainly happen as long as I’m around and one of my tasks in life is to similarly get a younger colleague bitten by that bug, too, one day.

Long live the Dispatch Trophy.