Walter Hall won the GC All-England Handicap Final (Advantage GC)
Starting score posts for Advantage Golf (Photo: Roy Tillcock)by Roy Tillcock at Ryde
18th September (GC)
Fourteen finalists from the north (Ashby), south (Ryde), east (Maldon) and west (Glamorgan) and all points in between, assembled promptly at Ryde LTCC on a sunny September morning, unaware that this was about to become (at 33.2 degrees C) the hottest day of the year on the Isle of Wight.
For the first ever national Advantage final in the UK, players' handicaps ranged from 4 to 10 and their previous experience of Advantage (as opposed to extra strokes) was varied. Starting scores extended from the familiar 0 : 0 to -1 : 2 and were clearly displayed on the scoring posts designed and made by Richard Carline (RoT), for use originally in SE league play. These posts remove the need for additional scoring clips to be attached to the centre peg and for an Advantage post.
All players and referees found this way of representing the starting scores to be a great improvement on the currently advised method.
Throughout the weekend's all-play-all 91 games, each of the four lawns was monitored by an experienced referee familiar with Advantage play, enabling the manager to concentrate on efficient running of the event. With no time limits initially in place, it became apparent that the very late finish on Saturday would necessitate a change of plan for the second day. Implementing a one hour time limit was easy to accomplish with the aid of the referees on each lawn.
In addition to time keeping and normal refereeing duties, some unexpected problems needed to be resolved. Although only four colours of metal scoring clips were provided it still proved possible for some players to arm themselves with the wrong colour at the start of the game. Occasionally there was confusion about the normal route around the hoops, never mind the Advantage extension, and the resulting penalty area restarts became the novelty of the day! There is undoubtedly a learning curve to keeping score in an Advantage game but it was noticeable that the majority of players were competent and needed little intervention.
By the end of day one Walter Hall (Maldon) was the only undefeated player with 7 wins, followed by four players on 5, Nigel Balchin (Glamorgan), Paul Green (Sussex), Jonathan Haslam (Dulwich) and Dee McKibbin (Phyllis Court). Many players found the extreme heat on Saturday to be more of a challenge than the competition itself and were relieved, and surprised, to find Sunday considerably cooler but with ever threatening showers.
Following a group photo-shoot, timed games commenced promptly at 9.30, but despite an apparent expedition of play almost a third of games during the day failed to finish within the allocated hour.
Unfinished Advantage games can be resolved quickly and fairly with the use of scoring scales (introduced in 2023) and players were made aware of the state of the game before their final 10 minutes and 8 shots.
Despite the change in weather Walter's winning streak continued uninterrupted on Sunday, and at lunchtime he was 3 wins clear of his nearest rivals Dee and Anne Dennis (Watford), making a close finish seem unlikely. The players had other ideas though and after suffering two consecutive 6 - 7 defeats, and with one round left to play, Walter found himself just one win ahead of Dee and two ahead of Nigel and Anne. By now the sunshine had returned and manager's serendipity decreed that Walter and Dee would play each other to reveal the final denouement. Suffice it to say Walter's magic touch returned with a 7 - 5 victory and Nigel, unbeaten in his final three games, swept into second place on points over Dee, with Anne finishing fourth.