QUALIFYING for the Lothians Championship has failed to attract a full field – a rare occurrence in the event’s 66-year history.
A total of 124 players – 20 short of the normal line-up – are set to battle it out for the Stuart Cup at Kingsknowe and Murrayfield tomorrow.
The top 32 after 36 holes will go forward to Duddingston next week to contest the match-play stage in the Lothians Golf Association’s flagship event.
As has become the norm, the event has been deprived of the top Lothians amateurs due to a perennial clash with the Lytham Trophy. It means that Royal Burgess star James Ross, the beaten finalist in 2007, is an absentee along with Dunbar’s Zander Culverwell, the winner seven years ago.
Also missing is Pumpherston’s Paul Drake, last year’s champion having recently turned professional after securing a card for the EuroPro Tour.
But Harburn’s Craig Deerness, the player he beat in the final at Dalmahoy 12 months ago, is back in a bid to go one better. In fact, he’s first on the tee at Murrayfield tomorrow along with Musselburgh’s Benn McLeod and Keith Reilly, the Lothians captain from Silverknowes. McLeod won the Lothians Order of Merit last year and will have his sights set on completing a notable double at Duddingston.
Four-time champion Keith Nicholson (Haddington) also starts out at Murrayfield, as does Turnhouse’s Neil Sneddon, a semi-finalist 12 months ago. Sneddon’s clubmate Steven Armstrong, the winner in 2004, plays his first round at Kingsknowe, where the morning field also includes three other former champions – the host club’s Allyn Dick, Alan Anderson (Bruntsfield Links) and Pumpherston’s Mark Timmins.
Dick, the Stuart Cup holder, has a familiar face for company – his Dispatch Trophy partner for Carrickvale, David Ewen.
Duddingston last staged the match-play stage in 2002, when it produced a home winner in Brian Smith. Indeed, the last three times it has hosted the event, a Duddingston player has triumphed, with Stuart Smith claiming the title on home soil in both 1986 and 1993. David Miller will have his sights set on emulating that feat this time around and he’s also in action first at Kingsknowe.
Craigielaw’s Mark Hillson, in 2007, was the last young gun to get his hands on the magnificent Evening News Trophy, the match-play prize.
But the likes of Jordyn Rhind (Kingsfield), Craigielaw’s Willem Kerr, Josh Rooney from Dalmahoy and the Loch brothers, Adam and Andrew, from Pumpherston will all be aiming to give themselves that chance this year.