Martin Dempster: Golf offers much more than just big events

Dispatch Trophy winners Mortonhall. From left: Graeme Clark, Steve Scott, Ian Dickson, Duncan Hamilton, Alex Main. Picture: Greg Macvean
Dispatch Trophy winners Mortonhall. From left: Graeme Clark, Steve Scott, Ian Dickson, Duncan Hamilton, Alex Main. Picture: Greg Macvean
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I t was the same question I’ve been asked a lot at this time of the year. “Why are you covering the Dispatch Trophy, an amateur event at the Braids, when the BMW PGA Championship is taking place at Wentworth?” It’s an understandable query when you consider the latter is one of the biggest events on the European Tour and would otherwise be on my schedule, but not when it clashes with a tournament you’ve fallen in love with over the years.

Contrary to what some people think, tournament golf shouldn’t only be about professionals, though there can be no denying that events such as The Open, The Masters and the Ryder Cup all attract huge interest and rightly so. The total attendance at Wentworth last week was more than 111,000 and that was a brilliant endorsement for the event in particular but also golf in general.

In comparison, the final of the Dispatch Trophy was only watched by a group of 50 or so, but that doesn’t mean to say it should be dismissed as insignificant. Not when we are talking about an event that was inaugurated back in 1890 and was being staged for the 119th time this year. Not when we are talking about a team tournament played under a double foursome format. And certainly not when we are talking about an event staged in the spring at the Braids.

“You don’t see excitement like this in the professional game,” opined Maurice McEwan as he joined his wife June, the Scottish Golf president, in taking in that final between Mortonhall and Tantallon without any obligation to do so, and that is a sentiment this correspondent has expressed on numerous occasions since becoming associated with the event around 30 years ago.

Just like the late Ian Macniven, who was the long-serving golf correspondent for the Edinburgh Evening News, I’ve been bitten by the Dispatch Trophy bug, something I feel proud of rather than facing potential embarrassment when that question is asked. Events at grassroots level are important for golf’s lifeblood and this historic tournament epitomises everything that is good about the sport.

The team aspect is brilliant, as is the fact it’s a double foursome format. That, of course, works especially well on a course like the Braids, where the gorse, in full bloom at this time of the year, gobbles up wayward shots. Numerous matches over the years have been turned around on the closing stretch and the trophy decider, won by newcomers Mortonhall, joined that list this time around.

It was a crying shame when the Scottish Foursomes Championship, a similar event that moved around venues in the central belt, fell off the fixture list around a decade ago, with little hope of that now being resuscitated. The future of the Dispatch Trophy was also looking bleak when the entry, having once been 128 on a regular basis, had dropped to only 42 teams two years ago, but its future is now looking bright. Helped by a rule change that opened the door for course-owning clubs to take part, a total of 53 teams took part on this occasion and hopes are high of that getting up to 64 in the next couple of years.

Many of the teams that played in the event in its heyday no longer exist. The traditional teams still on the scene, though, are now being joined in the battle to claim one of the most impressive trophies in the game by Edinburgh and East Lothian clubs and that new combination has breathed life back into the event. It is also now attracting youngsters, the Stephen Gallacher Foundation being represented for the last three years and being joined on this occasion by a quartet representing Lothians Juniors.

It has turned into a mix of old and new, a combination that looks to have ensured that an event that has been part of Edinburgh’s sporting fabric for so long will not only continue to be so but has opened a new chapter for it, one that has got off to an exciting start with Mortonhall claiming the coveted prize at the first attempt.

Yes, of course, events such as the Dispatch Trophy, County Cup in East Lothian and similar events in Aberdeen, for instance, may be of little interest to those who are only interested in knowing how players such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are performing in big-money tournaments, but the beauty of golf is that it is viewed with different perspectives.