Youthful influx has reinvigorated Dispatch Trophy at the Braids
Away from the screaming, bawling and yelling of those noisy New Yorkers at the 101st US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, a tournament that has been around for even longer was taking place in peace and tranquillity at a public course in Edinburgh at the weekend.
The Dispatch Trophy, an amateur team event held at the Braids, couldn’t be more different to a major, of course, which is why Ian MacNiven, my mentor as a golf writer and the man who used to cover it for the Edinburgh Evening News, would have taken it any week of the year over an Open Championship or even a Ryder Cup. He reported on the tournament in its heyday and loved nothing more than being in the thick of things in his beloved home city at this time of year.
Times have changed in golf and life in general, though, and the Dispatch Trophy is certainly a great example of that. First held in 1890, it used to attract a full field of 128 teams and even had a waiting list at one stage. Big crowds followed matches, with a photograph that has arisen from the 1953 event showing a green encircled by spectators watching a quarter-final tie at 9.20 on a Saturday night.
“You’d be lucky to get that for any amateur event in the UK now,” wrote someone on seeing that photograph on social media. In fact, there are professional events, including some on the European Tour, that don’t attract such crowds.
Alas, the Dispatch Trophy, just like many other historic amateur events, is no longer what it used to be. The entry was down to just 42 teams three years ago and, to be perfectly honest, it would have probably been joining the Scottish Foursomes Championship on the scrapheap if new life hadn’t been breathed into it.
A decision to allow course-owning clubs to enter, as well as a concerted effort to encourage youngsters to take part, has seen the entry increase to over 50 teams in each of the last two years. The event has been reinvigorated, and this year’s 120th staging, which concludes this Saturday, has certainly warmed the cockles of the heart of this correspondent. It was terrific to see so many youngsters taking part in this fabulous event over the weekend, the Stephen Gallacher Foundation having led the way in that respect by entering teams for the last three years and now being joined by Lothians Golf Association. Representing Lothians Boys, a team made up of two 14-year-olds, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old is through to the last 16.
It’s not just the kids that are getting a real buzz from being involved – the eyes of parents who accompany them also light up when they see the magnificent trophy. You can also detect a sense of pride as they see their weans on the first tee, taking in their stride the challenge of playing against grown men. Equally encouraging has been the return of a good number of players to the Braids. Scottish Senior internationalist John Fraser, for example, is playing for his home club, Royal Burgess, as is Neil Sneddon, who is making his first appearance in the event since being part of a winning Harrison team in 1992.
Scott Knowles, a former Scottish Golfer of the Year, rarely misses out on teeing up in the Dispatch Trophy and that’s because this event, with its foursomes format and played on a course that always ensures twists and turns in matches, is probably the one he’s enjoyed the most in his career.
While playing in the event is now a distant memory for Graham Ewart, the former Scottish Golf Union and Lothians Golf Association president remains a strong supporter. Year after year, he’s there to wish representatives of both George Heriot’s FP and Hailes, a club within Kingsknowe, well before they head over the hill to go into battle.
It’s medals that are up for grabs, not vouchers. For many of those still involved, it will require an early finish at work then a dash up to the Braids and little or no preparation. Yes, I know that writing about an amateur event won’t be nearly as appealing to most than a major or a Ryder Cup or a Solheim Cup but long live the Dispatch Trophy because the game in the Edinburgh area would certainly be much poorer without it.