North Berwick close in on first league title
North Berwick moved within touching distance of their first ever league title when they emerged victorious from Sunday’s showdown away to challengers Gullane.
The Gullane No 1 course was in fine condition despite recent freezing conditions, but strong winds and low temperatures, combined with intermittent rain, ensured the players would be tested. And it was the home side that got off to the better start with Jeff Aitken’s team up in four matches after the seventh hole.
Only Torquil McInroy and Euan Donaldson held a slender lead for the visitors at that stage, but they went on to convert their advantage to a fifteenth green win over Fraser Syme and Murray Saunders.
At the top of the order home duo Scott Walker and Stuart Roberts held on to their one hole advantage through twelve, but missed golden opportunities to extend when first Roberts missed from inside two feet on the short thirteenth, then the pair double-bogeyed the fourteenth after opponents Chris Wood and Ally Simpson lost their ball. The visitors took the long fifteenth with a scrappy par 5 to level the score, but then it was Simpson’s turn to miss a chance as his two foot putt for a winning par slid by on the short sixteenth. And the North Berwick youngster feared he might pay for his mistake when Roberts launched a powerful drive down the par 4 seventeenth finding the green some 390 yards distant to set up a winning birdie. But Simpson held his nerve, and when his partner’s approach to the final green came to rest just a few feet from the pin he made amends by rolling in the birdie putt that secured a halved match.
And that provided the good news his teammates needed. By that time the experienced Rob Jack and Duncan Low had secured the anchor match for the hosts, and the scores were level. But North Berwick had reversed their deficits in the remaining two ties, Craig Hardie and Horry Lawson taking a one hole lead to the sixteenth with Weston Main and Kevin Messer two up on John Clelland and Greg Houlston in the match behind.
But an untimely three putt cost Hardie and Lawson their lead, and just a few minutes later Messer holed bravely from five feet to avoid his lead being halved on the exposed sixteenth green.
There were mixed fortunes on the seventeenth too, with Hardie and Lawson winning for North Berwick, but Clelland and Houlston taking advantage of Messer’s mistake when his approach missed the target right. And that left the visitors dormy in both matches, good enough to be sure of at least a share of the spoils.
With a rules issue holding up play in the match in front in was match 4 that came up the final hole first, with high quality approaches from Main and Clelland setting up birdie chances for both sides. In the end there was hurt for Houlston who watch his putt, and his team’s chances, slip by.
The rules question behind resulted in a penalty shot for the home team, and despite Alan Smith’s brave third shot to 10 feet, Kenny Wright was unable to convert and their half in bogey 5 meant another one hole win for the visitors.
So Gordon Milligan’s team need just a point from two remaining home matches to cap a remarkable first season in the top flight by lifting the trophy. Most notably, Sunday’s win means North Berwick have completed their away fixtures with a 100% record.
And there was no let up in the Second Division promotion race with Glen overcoming a determined performance from their hosts Thorntree, whilst Kilspindie made the most of home advantage, dealing out a crushing 5-0 defeat to Whitekirk. Haddington’s match at home to Musselburgh Old fell victim to the weather, and will now be played this Sunday 3rd February. The home team know they need a win to keep up the pressure on leaders Kilspindie, who they are due to meet a week later in what looks likely to be a promotion decider.
Elsewhere Tantallon boosted their chances of survival in the top flight with a 4-1 win over Musselburgh, whilst Dunbar ended what was perhaps the league’s most surprising record, recording their first ever win over Castle Park.