YORKSHIRE became the English Senior Men’s County Champions for the first time and in doing so secured a unique treble to cap their most successful year on record.
The Tykes came out on top following a topsy-turvy encounter on the last day at Goswick to add the national title to the Northern Counties Senior League and the Northern Counties qualifier, where they came from 15 shots behind at Arcot Hall to claim a place in the County Champions event.
The decider against Warwickshire went right down to the last of three matches played over the Northumberland links course. The White Rose side required only a half from the match to claim the title and won the morning foursomes 2-1.
However, through the afternoon, as fortunes swayed one way and then the other, the title looked anything but assured. But captain Tony Greenhalgh’s side claimed critical points on the 17th and 18th greens in the final matches and emerged 5-4 winners.
Greenhalgh said: “We are absolutely ecstatic. It’s the first time we have won this trophy and so it’s very special.”
He was standing in that week for regular captain, John Grimbleby, who was unable to lead the team because his wife Jean was recovering from surgery for a knee replacement.
“I feel a bit of a fraud because John has captained the team all year,” said Greenhalgh. “But we’re delighted to bring it home for him.”
Yorkshire were in pole position going into the final day, having already beaten Sussex and Gloucestershire. They knew only a defeat could possibly deny them the title by triggering a countback and bringing Warwickshire and Sussex into the reckoning.
Yorkshire’s 2-1 lead after the foursomes came courtesy of some gritty play from Alwoodley’s Garry Cuthbert and Peter Ward, of Middlesbrough, who won despite being one down after 15. As the singles unfolded, Warwickshire took charge and, with six holes played, they trailed in only one game. Andrew Carman kept the momentum going as he eased to a 6&5 win and Tony Allen edged the team ahead when he won on the 17th.
The tension mounted as the final games played out the closing holes. Moor Allerton’s Johnny Lawrence, who was ahead throughout his game, added his point on the 17th. Garforth’s Andy King had to wait until the 17th before getting ahead in his encounter, but then held on to claim a one-up win.
But Warwickshire’s Peter Gordon brought the team tally level when he won by the same margin. The decider was the last game on the course and Ward and Warwickshire’s Rob Soen were all square as they stood on the 18th tee.
Soen hit a superb approach into the green, which finished about three feet from the hole, but Ward did even better, playing his to within six inches of the cup. It proved decisive when Soen’s birdie attempt slipped past, putting the title securely in Yorkshire’s grasp.
“It was a very demanding afternoon,” added Horsforth’s Greenhalgh. “I kept looking at the scoreboard and Warwickshire were comfortably ahead. But Johnny Lawrence, Andy King and Peter Ward brought in the points when we needed them.”
Sussex wanted a big win to support their challenge in the event of a countback. But Gloucestershire ended their title hopes when they held them to a draw, posting their first point on the leaderboard.
Grimbleby’s decision not to bring in Stephen East, arguably Yorkshire’s top senior golfer, for the final proved to be justified. East had not featured in 2017 partly due to his commitments with England Golf as a key member of the national team.
Grimbleby said: “Stephen had a lot of other commitments through the year so hadn’t played for the side, but the team spirit was so good all year long that it would have been difficult to drop anybody, and I’m pleased that decision was vindicated with our win.”
He was still able to rely on a top-class line-up, with Moor Allerton’s Johnny Lawrence the low man at plus 1 and last year’s YUGC President Jonathan Plaxton the highest off just 1.9. Grimbleby also had the opportunity to blood some new players in 2017 and they definitely came up trumps.
He added: “Being able to bring in experienced players like Andy King and Mark Lawson (both Garforth) and former internationals Jonathan Plaxton and Cec Bloice really added to the quality of the team.”
Although Bloice was not selected as part of the eight-man squad for Goswick, the former Walker Cup man played his part throughout the league matches and added extra know-how to the squad. And it was fitting that Ward should secure the winning point.
“He’s our talisman” added Grimbleby. “We have nicknamed him Lord Ward. “He’s some character and really gets the lads going and the fact that Charles Webb and Mitchell Newman, who both also represented the county this year, travelled up to support and caddy shows the kind of camaraderie we have engendered.”
The treble-winning skipper is looking forward to the next campaign, and was no doubt plotting the year ahead when all 16 players who represented the county in all forms of matches came together for a final time at the YUGC annual dinner after receiving special invitations to recognise their success.
“We are definitely moving forward and I can’t wait for next year,” said a buoyant Grimbleby.