Fylde coast golf review: Why our Gazette Matchplay champion won't defend his crown (he's got a good reason)
Fleetwood Golf Club's Chris Boyes won The Gazette Matchplay for the third time in Portugal but won't be continuing his love affair with the tournment next year '“ his wedding is planned for the weekend at the end of September when our sun-kissed finals are traditionally staged.
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But the 30-year-old six-handicapper will sit out the 2019 competition with plenty of magical memories of his hat-trick triumph, which was all the more admirable as two St Annes Old Links players forced him to play his finest golf on the Algarve.
Boyes won an edge-of-your-seat final 2 and 1 against Chris Nay at the spectacular Vale de Pinta course, 24 hours after after clinching his semi-final at nearby Gramacho on an extra hole after Mark Townsend’s dramatic fightback.
Completing our Old Links trio on the Portuguese south coast was Steve Heyes. Like his fellow finalists, Steve had come through five rounds and the quarter-finals at Lancaster to book a place in the paradise resort of Alvor.
The four golfers enjoyed four days based at the luxurious Pestano Dom Joao II hotel and played three different courses, with all accommodation, travel and golf funded by Blackpool taxi firm Blacktax, who so generously sponsored the tournament for the 10th successive year.
Retail manager Boyes’ victory in Saturday’s final was a triumph for patience as well as consistency. He won none of the first 14 holes, all but one of which were halved, then reeled off three in succession to close out a match which Nay seemed destined to take to the wire after beating Heyes 5 and 4 in his semi.
Boyes parred 14 of the 17 completed holes and birdied another to finish just two over-par on a top-quality course which hosts final qualifying for the European Seniors Tour each year.
Our champion of 2010 and 2012, Boyes was the losing finalist last year and was determined not to experience that feeling again as the first six holes set the tone for a spellbinding contest, all halved in par.
Nay was unable to take advantage of the extra shot he received on the sixth as the higher handicapper, playing off eight, but he needn’t have worried as he won the par-three seventh with a bogey, the first shots either player had dropped.
Seven more shared holes followed, littered with excellent long putts to leave the ball dead for par. Boyes was so close with a 10-foot birdie putt on eight and left a chip inches away on 11, where Nay saved par with a 12-footer
After a bogey apiece on 12, the 13th could have been a turning point as Nay’s drive veered way right and was lost, though he was granted a free drop under the ground-under-repair rule.
This was a sporting agreement by Boyes, especially as this was the other hole on which Nay received a shot. Boyes made light of the course’s most difficult test with a solid par, which Nay needed his extra shot to equal.
The quality went up another notch on the par-five 14th, which produced both of the final’s birdies. After two fine drives had stopped barely 10 feet apart, Boyes drilled a 40-foot eagle putt within two feet of the hole and Nay matched him following a classy chip to three feet.
With the toe-to-toe challengers so evenly matched, the idea that Boyes would overturn his deficit and have the match won in the space of three holes seemed improbable. But that’s what happened, as the champion himself said: “When I finally won one at 15, I said to myself, ‘This is it’!”
His excellent long birdie putts on 15 and 16 finished inches away and his opponent couldn’t make tricky par putts under pressure to save. Boyes sensed his chance to end the match a hole early with more accurate play to the short 17th, driving on to the green and steering a long putt to two feet. Nay drove into sand, and when his bogey putt struck the back of the hole but refused to drop he took his cue to concede.
And so our champion was spared another nailbiting finale like the one of the previous day at the glorious Gramacho course, where Mark Townsend recovered from four down at the turn and was again on the brink of semi-final defeat at dormie two.
Mark showed all his resilience in this clash of the six handicappers to win the 17th and 18th to force an extra hole, where Chris held his nerve for victory.
Our hosts and organisers Ian Wharmby and Ian Hodgin from Blacktax couldn’t recall a more dramatic match in the past decade of the tournament as Mark, who didn’t take a hole on the front nine, then won five to force the match into extra-time.
Chris’ first birdie at the par-four third, hitting his approach shot to two feet, gave him a lead he would hold until the 18th green.
Construction worker Mark did well to stay in the contest against an opponent who went through the first nine holes at two under-par. After Mark’s drive bounced off the pin at the short fourth, Chris extended his lead at the par-five sixth.
Chris looked determined to reach his fourth final as he won the eighth and ninth, birdying the first of these after hitting his second to three feet.
But Mark had twice come from four down to win matches on his way to Portugal and that fighting spirit was in evidence once more as he won three of the next four holes, birdying the 10th after his drive stopped within four feet of the pin.
With the gap reduced to one, the next two halved holes were tense, with birdie putts not quite dropping for Chris, while Mark salvaged 15 with an excellent chip to two feet. But it looked all over at 16, the course’s most difficult hole, where Mark found an unplayable lie in a ditch and Chris’ par left him two up with two to play.
Mark’s never-say-die determination came to the fore again as he sank the 20-foot birdie putt he needed to take the match to the 18th. Mark was in the driving seat up the last after his opponent drove out of bounds but he still needed to hole a testing putt of around three and a half feet for his par five to take this epic encounter back to the first tee.
Mark’s second shot at the extra hole crashed into branches but he still managed bogey, forcing Chris to sink a three-foot par putt for victory.
Chris Nay, who had never visited Portugal since childhood, took an immediate liking to Gramacho in our other semi as he moved four up after six holes, then halted a mid-round revival by his Old Links clubmate Steve Heyes to close out their match after 14.
Chris, the head sports coach at St Annes YMCA, took an early grip by winning three successive holes from the second. He drove the green at the par-four third, made birdie and was unlucky not to add another at the next when his chip struck the pin. A second birdie did arrive at the sixth after an excellent chip from just off the green.
But St Annes gardener Steve showed why he had beaten last year’s champion Elliot Lavin on his way the last four by winning the seventh with a solid par three which started his best spell. He would have closed the gap further by making a five-footer on eight but he did so at the 10th, leaving a birdie putt inches short.
That good work was soon undone, though, as Chris won the next three holes to stand dormie five at the 14th, where Steve couldn’t make a par putt to extend the contest.
Our final four look forward to trying to win through again next year, except for champion Chris, who has a match-up of a different kind to concentrate on.
“I’ll be back for 2020, all being well,” he says, “And I’ll try to get some more of the Fleetwood lads to enter next year.”
Blacktax managing director Ian Wharmby added: “The golf was as brilliant as the weather. We had some fabulous matches and hopefully all the players who read about this event will want to take part next year.”
Finals weekend at Fairhaven Golf Club saw many prizes won over the season given out to men and women .
Captain Colin Jakeman presented the Ward Trophy to Pat and Mike Heritage (pictured), while the Outhwaite Cup was presented to Alan Dean and Gordon Kemp and the Croasdale Cup singles knockout to Donncha Hurley.
A ladies’ stableford was won by Brenda Cunningham (33 points) by one point from runner-up Linda Whitworth.
The division two winner was Catch Grady (37) and runner-up Paula Leah (31), and the division three winner Pauline Crossley (31) and runner-up Linden Walthew (30).
Knott End Ladies played an EG medal, the first Winter Eclectic, and the Now Breast Cancer charity competition.
Winner of the Now Breast Cancer Brooch was Joyce Wright with nett score of 71
Silver & Bronze 1 Division winner: Joyce Wright (nett 71), lowest gross Joanne Kay (83).
Bronze 2 & 3 Division winner: Sylvia Astbury (73), lowest gross Felicity Lawson (108).