Like lambs to the slaughter…
Even for the unsuperstitious, the sight of a dead lamb lying beneath the practice basket at Fanmore wasn't exactly the most encouraging welcome to the renowned Mull course. And it was with a sense of foreboding that early arrivals on Friday practiced in sunny, benign conditions - the forecast promised evil conditions over the weekend, and Mull doesn't like to disappoint.
This was the 15th Scottish Open on Mull, and the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the first course on Gremlin Napier's beautiful croft at Fanmore. Legend has it that the idea for the course was revealed to Gremlin and Charlie Mead in a shared vision, fuelled by a certain local life-giving elixir. It has certainly stood the test of time, and has been re-designed over the last couple of years by the inclusion of neighbouring croft land (belonging to Johnny Simpson), thereby extending the course and removing a number of crossing fairways.
The extra land has also given us one of the most iconic holes in British disc golf - the dreaded (and appropriately numbered) Hole 13. Totally exposed to the elements, situated at the top of the hill, and with awesome panoramic views of mountain and sea, this is pure Highlands. Only 40m from the tee, the basket is perched a couple of metres from the side of a cliff, with a 10m vertical drop immediately to the left (and beyond), followed by a steep down-slope. A fading straight shot is likely to finish 60m down the hill. If you play safe to the right, you have no choice but to lay-up for the par or risk a long return if you miss. Oh, and just for good measure, you're playing directly into the prevailing north-west wind (more usually, a gale)! Blissfully ignoring these risks, Jonnie Burden almost aced the hole in Round 1 - now that was a truly courageous shot! The rest of us were happy to settle for 3 or 4.
Conditions for the weekend were, as the Met Office promised, extreme. Stiff winds for the first two rounds on Saturday were followed by gales, with heavy showers of rain and hail, for the final rounds on Sunday. Derek lived up to his nickname ("The Wind") by exhibiting masterful disc control, to take his third Open title of the season by nineteen shots. The win was also his eleventh of the fifteen Scottish Open championships - there's just no player able to match him over the rocky, exposed slopes of Fanmore. Second was Charlie Mead, with departing American favourite Chris Rivera third. "Magical" Trevor Bechtel and Andy Lucey made up the Open Final five.
The Amateur Division witnessed a more intense battle, with all players suffering humiliating experiences in the difficult conditions. Angus Bruce led the way after the third round by one shot from local ace Ben Bolton, with Richard Clegg two shots further back. However, Richard played some terrific controlled golf in the fourth round (his round score bettered only by Derek) to hold a single shot lead over Angus for the six hole final. These two then matched each other shot for shot, with Richard deservedly lifting his first Am title. Ben Bolton was third, Jesse Denny fourth and Wee Ben Bruce fifth.
However, the most intriguing contest of the event was for the Junior Girls title, between 11-year old identical twins, Maddy & Georgia Lucey, who performed "synchronised disc golf" throughout the weekend. With each round score identical (!), a two-hole playoff was required to separate the two, with Maddy (or was it Georgia?) emerging successful. James Luton was the Junior Boys winner (Niall McSherry second), and Wee Ben won the Junior Juniors, defeating tournament rookie Gabriel Rivera (aged 5).
A vote was taken for Spirit of the Game, and after two re-counts, a tie was declared between the 11-year-olds - the Lucey twins and Wee Ben, who had all battled four rounds gamely, despite the 18-rated conditions.
Gremlin's traditional RNLI raffle was well supported and raised over £100, thanks being expressed to all those players (present and absent) who had provided prizes and purchased tickets.
As players departed for the ferries, shell-shocked but strangely satisfied, they knew that they would never experience such an intense disc golfing experience again - until May bank holiday next year!
JUNIOR GIRLS (tied after 76 holes - play-off)
JNR JUNIOR BOYS
SPIRIT of the GAME (voted by players)