Golf: Castle Park is primed to test Lothians' top players

COMPETITORS in this weekend's Lothians Championship qualifying have been promised a tough test at Castle Park, one of the two courses being used for the 36-hole event.

"They won't be playing a pitch and putt course," said Jim Wilson, owner of the East Lothian course. "We've got new blue tees for events like this (off them the course measures more than 6,400 yards) and 78.1 was the average score when we hosted the Lothians Team Tournament two years ago."

Wilson, who began his own golf career as a junior at Turnhouse, bought Castle Park, near Gifford, four years ago and is looking forward to playing host to most of the Lothians top players tomorrow.

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"It is a family-run business and we are doing well," he added. "We had a total membership of 420 last year and are different to most clubs due to the fact we have a fair number who are non-competition playing members.

"Visitors receive a warm welcome at our club reception and, over the last three years, our greens have been like velvet."

Wilson's son, Craig, runs it, while Derek Small is the club's professional and recently provided his expert coaching at a series of Golf Weeks he has organised in East Lothian for a long time now.

Royal Musselburgh is the other course being used for tomorrow's qualifying, which boasts a strong field despite the absence of some players due to either the Lytham Trophy or a Scottish Junior Tour event at Forrester Park in Fife on Sunday.

Paul Drake lifted the Stuart Cup as leading qualifier at Pumpherston, his home club, and Bathgate 12 months ago and will have a great chance of retaining that if he produces the form that saw him make his presence felt in the Scottish Champion of Champions at Leven at the start of the month.

The field also includes two four-time Lothians champions in Stuart Smith of Duddingston and Haddington's Keith Nicholson, who will be determined to earn the chance to defend his title when the match-play phase of the event takes place at Royal Burgess next week.

The top 32 qualify and others who should achieve that target include Kingsknowe's Allyn Dick, who has played in a couple of Scottish Order of Merit events already this season, 2004 winner Steven Armstrong, Duddingston's David Miller and Kevin Messer, who was at Dalmahoy when he reached the final at Craigielaw last year but is now at Turnhouse.

Dunbar provide a strong contingent in the Neilson brothers – Stephen and Craig – Stephen Simants, Michael Creasey and Neil Paterson, while the young guns include Craigielaw junior captain Greg Smail, West Linton's Fraser Thain, Callum Hill of Tantallon and Euan Paterson, the giant Bruntsfield Links lad who qualified last year.